Four Suggestions to Support Caregivers' Stamina
The May 2008 issue of body+soul features a thought-provoking story on caregiving, entitled, "Taking Care of You." Part of the headline in the magazine says it all: "Caregiving takes more than skill. It also takes stamina." We often forget about constant demands on our energy as we try to help loved ones, but being able to mentally, physically and emotionally go the distance while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease is critical.
The article provides a list of self-care strategies to keep the caregiver's reserves from running dry. I've found that I used many of these (as did my friends when they were taking care of family members and friends during long illnesses). These suggestions include:
- "Replenish the well" - The article suggests that caregivers do something for themselves each day. This could mean walking around the block, finding some quiet time to delve into a novel, or going to the movies.
- "Accept help" - Learn to ask friends and family members for assistance. Requests could range from picking up a few items at the grocery store to being on call in case your loved one faces an emergency while you're out of town.
- "Take off your caregiver hat" - The article encourages individuals to identify themselves in other roles, such as a gardener or a runner, beyond being a caregiver. This enables individuals to expand their self-concept beyond the caregiving role, thus having a better chance to avoid the single-minded focus that can lead to burn-out.
- "Accept the moment" - Realize that as a caregiver, you often will be forced to let go instead of fixing the situation. By focusing energy on the loved one (as opposed to the "fix"), caregivers may experience these difficult times as transformative in how they related to the loved one and how they live their own lives.
The beauty of this article is that caregivers have a lot of latitude in how to incorporate these four suggestions into their daily routines. Yet, I'd also suggest that it's the multiple opportunities within each suggestion that can help caregivers identify individual ways to avoid burnout. That's important because burnout doesn't help your loved one, your family and friends, or - most importantly - you.