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Self-Care for the Caregiver – Part 2

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Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves many stressors. Caregiving can make an impact on your health, relationships, and state of mind. That’s why taking time to relax, rest, and recharge isn’t just a luxury – it’s a necessity! In this second part of the two-part series, Self-Care for the Caregiver, you will be introduced to useful communication strategies and effective ways to ask for help.

Below are the subsequent two strategies that you can take to start you on the right track of personal self-care.

Strategy #2: Communicate Constructively

Being able to communicate constructively is one of a caregiver’s most important tools. When you communicate in ways that are clear, assertive and constructive, you will be heard and get the help and support that you need. Below are guidelines for good communication:

  • Use “I” messages rather than “you”. For example, saying “I feel angry” instead of “You make me angry” enables you to express your feelings without blaming the other person and causing them to be defensive.
  • Respect the rights and feelings of others. Do not say something that will violate another person’s rights or intentionally hurt the person’s feelings.
  • Be clear and specific. Speak directly to the person. Don’t hint or hope that the person will guess what you need.
  • Understand that when you speak directly about what you need or feel, you are taking the risk that the other person might disagree. Show respect for the other person’s opinion and work together to find a common ground.
  • Be a good listener. Listening is the most important aspect of communication. If you are feeling frustrated about another person’s behavior, or are not getting what you want, ask the other person to tell you more about their motives and what is behind the behavior.

Strategy #3: Ask For and Accept Help

When you are a caregiver, many people may ask you: “What can I do to help?” Prepare yourself for this question by writing down some practical things that people can do for you. Thus, the next time someone asks, you can say “Can you please pick up some milk from the grocery store?” or “Please drop this at the post office for me”. Use the following tips to help you ask for what you need:

  • Consider the person’s special abilities and interests. If you have a friend who enjoys cooking but dislikes driving, your chances of getting help improve if you ask her to bring over dinner Tuesday night.
  • Use good timing. A person who is tired or stressed might not be available to help out. Give them time to consider your request and be patient.
  • Be specific. When you break tasks down into simple tasks, it is easier for people to help. So, instead of asking someone to do the yardwork, ask them to prune the hedge or rake the leaves.
  • Be flexible. If you are asking someone for help, know that they may offer it in the way that is familiar to them. For example, if you need help paying bills, the person you are asking may make payments online instead of writing checks. The more flexible you are, the more willing others will be to help.
  • Pull from multiple resources. Help can come from community resources, family, friends and professionals. Cast a wide net of support so that no one person in your support team feels overburdened.
  • Ask the patient for help. It is also important to ask for help from the person you are caretaking for. Depending on what his or her limitations are, they may not be capable of doing everything you would like. However, they may be able to do some things. Try saying “It is helpful to me when you tell me ahead of time what you want”, “It is easier for me to help when you speak politely”, or “Please be patient with me.”

If someone is unable or unwilling to help, try not to take it personally. In the long run, it is better for relationships if the person feels comfortable saying ‘no’ and does not feel obligated to help when they are not able to. Remember, the person who says ‘no’ today, may be happy to help another time. Remember, your friends, family and community do want to help. It is up to you to tell them how. Asking for help when you need it is a sign of personal strength.

In Summary

Remember, it is not selfish to focus on your needs and desires when you are a caregiver – it’s an important part of the job. You are responsible for your own self-care. If you don’t know where to start, begin with the basics. Eat healthy, get enough sleep and engage in moderate exercise. Seek support from others and know that part of your strength is asking for help when you need it.

Practice the following mantras to maintain a positive attitude during this difficult time:

“I deserve to take time for myself and be the best I can be for my loved one.”

“I have family and friends who love me and are able and willing to go through this experience with me.”

“Part of my strength is recognizing resources available to me and asking for help when I need it.”

Many times, attitudes and beliefs form barriers that stand in the way of caring for ourselves. Such beliefs include feeling selfish for putting your needs first, or feeling inadequate or “not good enough.” If you experience these beliefs, excessive guilt, signs of depression or heightened anxiety, consider meeting with a professional therapist. Therapy can help you make self-care a priority, as well as identify – and overcome – the roadblocks in your way. The Psychologists at Therapy Changes are specially trained in issues surrounding caregiving, as well as grief and loss, and are here to help.

Image: Vinoth Chandar on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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