Has life thrown you a curve ball and turned you into a caregiver?

It’s possible you are a caregiver, and you don’t even realize. It may have started out small – taking mom or dad to an eye doctor appointment, then doing their grocery shopping, then managing their finances . . . or maybe a health crisis triggered a call to action – and suddenly – your life has changed. Being a caregiver has become part of your new normal.

Welcome to your new role. Oftentimes, this comes on as an addition to your other roles in life: parent, employee, spouse, volunteer. . . Whether you are a relative, friend, or neighbor, adding the caregiver role to you list of to-do’s can be stressful and draining.

You can’t help other people if you are not well yourself. That’s why the airline safety videos encourage you – in the case of an emergency – to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. This applies to caregivers as well.

If you are first starting out, you will experience many challenges. You likely will feel uncertain and insecure about many facets of what’s to come. First make sure you are armed with the information you need to get the job done. Learn about the condition your loved one has, what caregiving skills will be required, and any financial or legal matters that could come up. Communicating clear expectations to everyone involved is also very helpful.

Second, understand that whether being a caregiver for the short-term or over a longer period, the best way to be a good caregiver is to also care for yourself. Here are a few thing to keep in mind:

  • There is no perfect caregiver, so let that expectation go
  • Learn about the skills that are needed in your situation
  • Say “no” to the skills you cannot do
  • Prioritize tasks, identify what must get done, and learn to let the rest go
  • Take care of your physical health: eat right, move your body, get enough sleep
  • Get some regular down time to relax and take care of your mental health too
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot control
  • Laugh whenever the opportunity arises – sometimes humor is the best medicine

Thirdly, don’t feel you have to take on herculean tasks alone. Don’t be afraid to accept help if it is offered. The longer you stay in this role, the more isolated you can become. Plan for relief from your responsibilities so you can get out and spend time with friends. Find and attend caregiver support groups. These groups are great opportunities to discover that you are not alone and learn new coping skills from others who are in similar situations.

Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of a loved one. Keeping yourself and others informed, taking care of your health, and getting support when you can will help things go more smoothly. To be a good caregiver, you have to learn to put your oxygen mask on first.

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