Caregivers must make sure that they are able to sustain the care they are giving, and this requires self-compassion and self-care.
Most caregivers are informal carers, a role thrust upon them by force of circumstance. By the very nature of the role, the welfare of the cared-for person is foremost in the caregiver’s mind, leaving very little room for thoughts of self-care. Indeed, the caregiver may even feel a sense of guilt for taking time to look after themselves.
Our research has already highlighted the stresses associated with the caregiving role, as well as the concerns of caregivers who get no respite from full-time caregiving, given the lack of additional support. However, it is precisely because of such lack of support that the caregivers must make sure they are able to sustain the care they are giving, and this requires self-compassion and self-care.
A personal daily hygiene routine – a signal to the body and mind that they are cared for too.
A healthy diet with no missed meals – this helps avoid chronic fatigue and malnutrition
Adequate hydration – focusing on this need sends a kind message to the body and avoids dehydration.
Exercise – if the caregiver can take a break or ask for support for only 10 minutes in a day, a tranquil yet brisk walk can be a tonic. Finding a yoga practitioner nearby has proven to be beneficial. If it’s not possible to leave the cared-for person, exercises in breathing and meditation, done at home, can help relieve the burden of caregiving.
Contact with everyday social circles – no matter how brief the contact, it should be maintained wherever possible. News of what’s going on outside can balance home and social life.
Conversation – if people don’t understand the difficulties a caregiver is experiencing, they won’t offer to help. But if they do understand, they might offer assistance.
Contact with other caregivers – a support circle can be a great release for pent up emotions and concerns.
Emotional support – caregivers need to know that it is entirely appropriate to talk to a doctor, or other professional, about any sense of depression or desperation, and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
Change of environment – where possible, short trips for both caregiver and cared-for are beneficial. Where even an hour’s respite is possible, a caregiver can visit a friend, go for a walk, or simply sit and relax in a different environment.
Plenty of sleep – evenings may be a good time to catch up on everything the day has left undone, but a culmination of late nights leads to chronic fatigue.
Especially for caregivers who suffer from a sense of guilt, it is important to understand that self-care is not a personal indulgence, rather, it is vital to the role – in helping themselves, they are helping others. If caregivers are to be able to sustain a caring role in the medium to long term, and avoid ‘caregiver burnout’ they must take care of themselves.
Dr Anil Patil is the founder and executive director of Carers Worldwide. Carers Worldwide highlights and tackles issues faced by unpaid family caregivers. Established in 2012 and registered in the UK, it works exclusively with caregivers in developing countries. Dr Patil co-authors this column with Ruth Patil, who volunteers with Carers Worldwide.