Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest Blog: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others

By Virginia Cunningham

Anyone who has been alive long enough knows that there often are not enough hours in the day to accomplish the things that need to be accomplished. Even for those of us who are not in a situation where we’re tasked with caring for someone else, time management is tough, and we often struggle to take care of ourselves on top of all our responsibilities.

Add to that the full-time care for another person, and the likelihood that you are going to be able to care for both that person and yourself, is slim to none.

Yet, caring for yourself is actually one of the best things you can do for the person who is counting on you for their care. The healthier, happier, and more self-sufficient you are, the better things will be for them.

If you are a caregiver, there’s simply no way that you’re going to be any good to anyone if you’re constantly exhausted, irritable, unhealthy and unhappy.

Caring for yourself in that kind of life situation is tough, but it needs to be done. It might take some extra effort and some emotional adjustments. Although, ultimately, in the end, both you and the person you are caring for stand to benefit tremendously.

Here are a few ways to care for yourself while caring for another.

1. Controlling your worry – Often times, a caretaker is in the position of caring for a loved one, which can compound the anxiety several times over. Worry and dread about what is happening, or might happen to that person, tends to take over, which can add chronic anxiety to go along with the already demanding task of taking care of another person.

Recognize that worrying about them, though easy to do, does not help them or you. In fact, the more happy and carefree you seem to them, the easier it will be for them to accept your care and not feel guilty about it.

At the end of the day, you can’t control their illness or disability, or the eventual outcome of it, outside of faithful caregiving. Don’t waste time and energy worrying about something you can’t control.

2. Accepting help from others – When you have so many responsibilities piled on you, the temptation to fly solo without any extra help is usually pretty strong.

Most caregivers spend so much time having someone depend on them that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to depend on other people. Recognize that there are others who are willing to help you, and that it’s totally fine to take them up on their offers. If someone wants to bring you a meal, let them. It just means you will have more time to either devote to yourself or to the person you are taking care of.

Don’t take advantage of people. However, if those you love and trust are offering to help, don’t turn them down in an effort to be a superhero. Bless them by letting them help you.

3. Diet and Exercise – It’s tough under normal circumstances, so there’s no question that it’s going to be difficult if you’re working as a full time caregiver. It is still tremendously important.

The best place to start is with your diet. If you are currently making meals for someone, that means you are already in the kitchen, so instead of fast food, make something for yourself, as well. You can even just grab a few things for yourself at the grocery store like fruits, veggies and lean meats. That stuff is quick, easy, and can keep you going throughout the day. Yogurt and cottage cheese are also great choices for handy protein pick-me-ups.

Don’t buy into the notion that limited time means you can’t eat healthy; 15 minutes at the grocery store can have you set for at least a few days.

Image: Creative Commons sources

4. Pampering yourself – Remember, you are still a person with your own needs, wants and desires, so it’s not a bad idea to pamper yourself here and there. Just think about what you enjoy.

Maybe you like going out for ice cream, watching movies or would enjoy a nice spa day. Call up a friend and spend an hour or two getting a deep tissue massage and just enjoying some “me time.”

The Best Kind of Care

There’s only so much of yourself you can give, and rest assured, the best kind of care you can offer is from a position of strength. Make sure that the care you are giving does not cost you that strength. If it does, the quality of your care will decline and the benefit of those who are receiving it will decline, too.

While it’s generous and noble to help the helpless, make sure you always take the time to help yourself.

Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer in Southern California. Her life can get busy caring for family, and she knows how important it is to make sure she is also taking care of herself. She looks for ways to do this each day. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A is for Acceptance

You are caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, who sometimes recognizes you as her daughter, but often thinks you’re her sister or maybe the neighbor next door when she was growing up. Now, you can continue to grieve for the loss of your “mother” as you knew her, and feel powerless about helping her in her present condition. Or you can accept this new person in your life, and see beyond the cognitive decline to the authentic self that lives inside her. In that place you can meet and embrace one another for fleeting moments or for a long-term relationship.

Few of us want to confront the reality that illness and death are an inevitable part of life. We live in a culture of denial, pushing away thoughts of our own and our loved one’s mortality. How can we learn acceptance in the face of fear and insecurity? How can we ever accept our own shortcomings: impatience, exhaustion and out- bursts? How can we bear the losses, pain and grief experienced by our patient, a situation over which we have no control? I recommend taking a look at the Big Picture.

We know intuitively some basic truths: we cannot have great joy without profound sadness. Every beginning has an end. Even more, we know we cannot be and do everything. Scale down those heroic gestures. Simply accept that you are only human. Feeling anger, sadness, confusion and resentment are natural responses. In some cases, you may have had to sacrifice your career, your sense of self-worth, active involvement in the community and life as you have known it. These losses can be heartrending for you. Affirm to yourself that you can and will overcome them.

When you open your heart to life’s possibilities and live fully in the moment, you can be better prepared for any eventuality. You can also be a more comforting presence for your loved one. When we learn, truly realize, that Now is all we have, we can let go of our illusions and efforts to be superhuman, and savor the magic of each moment. Try throwing your arms open and embracing the universe, just as it is right now. You can breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have to change a single thing. 

This may not have been the experience you wanted, but it can prove to be of great value to you. You may not be the person you used to be, but you are more of the spiritual self you are meant to be.

From my book, "The ABCs of Caregiving: Words to Inspire You." To read  more, buy the paperback or get the Kindle edition on