Caregiving can be time-consuming, emotional and stressful. If you are caring for a parent, you are likely in your 40s or 50s, and you may also be caring for your own children. Stack on to that caregiving for someone who often lives far away from you, then it is completely normal and expected for you to feel like you are being pulled in too many directions. So it's no surprise that you probably don't find time to take care of yourself.
To be able to maintain the pace and demands of this lifestyle, nothing is more important than making some time to take care of yourself. The following tips should help:
- Don't hesitate to ask for help and support. So many of us live by the rule "It's just easier if I do it myself." Often that is true, but just as often you may be juggling so many balls in the air that one is bound to drop if you don't have someone nearby to catch it. Also remember that you probably go out of your way to help others when asked — they will be just as happy and willing to help you when you ask. If you feel like you need more support, look into organized support groups for caregivers, either in person or online. It can be helpful to talk to someone struggling with the same issues.
- Schedule some "me" time. It may be a 10-minute tea break, a 30-minute nap or a trip to the fitness center for a yoga class. Whatever it is that will allow you some time to take a deep breath and clear your head — do it! And don't expect the time to find itself — make it a priority and write it into your daily or weekly schedule. When you are happier and calmer, your parent(s), children, family and friends will be happier too.
- Be as organized as possible. Start with a written daily or weekly schedule and go from there. Then, create a list of priorities for the day or week and check off tasks as they are accomplished — it will feel good to know that you are getting things done. Even if you haven't been in the habit of planning for the week ahead, now may be the time to do just that: sit down on Sunday night and plan meals for the week, make sure the kids have the rides they need to get to their after-school activities, pay the bills, be sure you have back-up in case your parent needs some last-minute help — then relax.
- Eat right. Easier said than done between soccer games, homework, visiting your parent and trips to their doctor? Absolutely. But celery sticks, French fries and a bite or two of your son's leftover chicken nuggets will take you only so far. If you can be home for meals with the family, then plan healthy ones that actually include choices from all the food groups. If you're on the go, think of packing energy bars, almonds, yogurt drinks, and fresh fruit. It also can't hurt to supplement with vitamins (with your doctor's approval).
- Forgive yourself. We tell our kids it's OK to fall when learning to ride a bike or ice skate, but often we don't allow ourselves the same leeway. As much as you want every aspect of your life to run smoothly all the time, it just may not be possible and/or reasonable during the time you are caring for your aging parent. Give yourself the same kind of forgiveness and understanding that you give others.