Balancing Act: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself and a Loved One

Tending to the needs of a senior loved one can be all-consuming.  You can become so focused on your senior that you lose track of taking care of yourself.  However, it’s vital to make self-care a part of your routine, or you risk damaging your own mental and physical health.  Here are some tips for balancing your needs with those of your loved one.

Health and caregiving.  As someone who is taking care of a loved one, chances are you are under a tremendous burden.  You may be not only trying to meet your senior’s needs, but also juggling obligations at your own home and workplace.  In fact, some studies show caregivers are under so much physical and mental stress that their mortality risk is 63 percent higher than those who are not caregivers.  Those taking on the role of caregiver often suffer with:

  • Poor eating and sleeping habits

  • Failure to maintain a workout routine

  • Failure to rest when sick

  • Failure to keep regularly scheduled medical exams

Obstacles.  What are the obstacles keeping you from a healthy self-care routine?  For many caregivers, much of the trouble lies in their own perceptions.  Do you feel you’re being selfish if you take care of your needs? When you slow down long enough to think about your health, does it scare you?  Do you feel inadequate if you ask others to help with the caregiving burden? Or, perhaps you feel unworthy of your senior’s love if you take time for yourself?  It’s important to understand that not only are these kinds of thoughts self-imposed barriers, they are misconceptions that are self-damaging.

Without good health and a proper self-care schedule, you can become run down, losing your energy and ability to care for your senior.  Instead, reassess your attitude about relaxation and take steps to make it part of your lifestyle.

Time management.  Once you commit to a self-care program, time management will be a key factor in making it successful.  Some experts suggest using an engagement planner so you can stay on top of appointments and plan your days and weeks.  Schedule your commitments around your loved one’s appointments. With something concrete to review, you’ll find it’s easier to manage gaps in care coverage and to arrange for help.  

Ask for support.  You’ll need to rely on friends, family and area services for meeting needs.  It’s not realistic to attempt to cover every obligation yourself, but with a little help, you’ll be amazed at how much better your situation becomes.  Also, when you’re discussing tasks with family members and friends, take the opportunity to define roles.  By eliminating any duplication of efforts, you meet needs efficiently and seamlessly. If those around you can’t or won’t help with direct care, one suggestion is to ask for help with getting groceries or doing yard work.  

“Me” time.  According to the AARP, one of the best things you can do is schedule your downtime before you schedule anything else.  Arrange for respite and reserve an appointment for a trip to a spa, and make a lunch date with a friend you miss seeing.  When you get a little quiet time or are in a waiting room, bring a book along so you can do some reading -- it’s an instant escape.  

Fitness.  Exercise is an important part of self-care.  With regular physical activity, you can improve the quality of your sleep, reduce depression, lower stress levels, increase your energy level and improve your ability to focus.  If joining a gym is too costly or inconvenient, consider establishing a home gym. With a few well-chosen pieces of equipment, some experts note you can achieve a full workout from the comfort of home.

A home gym doesn’t require remodeling; with a little floor space, good lighting and ventilation you can set up an area that will keep your workouts comfortable and efficient.  

Self-care for caregivers.  It’s vitally important to engage in a good self-care program.  Without tending your needs, you risk your own health. Manage time well, get assistance meeting obligations, and above all, make yourself a priority!  

Written by: Harry Cline, creator of and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be. He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.