This article was first published by Vivian Chiona of Expat Nest.
Being caregiver to a loved one is not for the faint of heart. It’s often an act of hard work, sacrifice and altruistic love, with emotional highs and lows. We share some tips for looking after yourself, if you’re looking after someone else. . .
Caregiving offers the opportunity to show your love to the person in need, but it can also be extremely stressful and exhausting. And if you’re not looking after yourself, there’s a very real risk of burnout.
The most effective caregivers share common habits to keep paddling through rough waters:
Prioritize your self-care
Taking care of your own needs is vital when taking care of a loved one. Stay on top of your healthcare needs, eat as healthily as possible and get plenty of sleep. Try to include some exercise in your day, even if it’s just 10 minutes at a time. Only by taking care of your needs, can you do your best at taking care of others.
Seek out information
The more you learn about your loved one’s illness, symptoms and treatment process, the more empowered you will feel around what to expect and how to cope with potential extra needs. Educating yourself on the illness empowers you to face future challenges as a caregiver and to provide the appropriate help on time.
Searching for solutions
Be honest about problems as they arise, look for effective solutions and take action. Keep in mind that you are an expert by experience when it comes to your loved one, so look for solutions that are suitable both for you and the person who needs you.
Acknowledge your own feelings
Identify your strengths and your weaknesses. Be honest about your emotions; you have the right to all of them.
Embrace your support network
Caregivers often feel alone and believe that others cannot fully understand what they are going through. Building or leaning on your support network helps to prevent burnout and the feelings of guilt that can emerge when negative emotions arise. An expat caregiver might feel especially lonely, as most of our loved ones live far away. In that case, take advantage of technology to stay in touch with your support network abroad and those involved with the care – this way, you have the opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings with the people that care most about you. Alternatively, support groups for caregivers provide a safe space to share your concerns and get advice. Whenever possible, have open, honest conversations with your loved ones or the person you take care of regarding your personal needs, so that everyone has the same expectations; this will minimize misunderstandings.
Gratitude for what you and your loved ones already have or have accomplished can help to find acceptance and some measure of peace. Start gently, by noticing small pleasures and joys. Consider creating a gratitude journal to capture these moments of appreciation. You may not be able to control everything that your loved one is going through, but you can have some control over how you respond to the challenges.
Take a break
Caregiving is a demanding task. Once in a while, give yourself a rest and participate in activities you enjoy, like reading a good book, meeting a friend, take a warm bath or watching a great movie.
Try not to focus on what is presumably coming, since no one knows if tomorrow will be better or worse than today. Living in the present can help you stay out of anticipatory fear, worry or grief.
Seek professional help
Caregiving is hard work and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed as you try your best to support for your loved one. If you feel exhausted, irritated, tired, constantly stressed or forgetful, do not hesitate to seek professional help. If these warning signs of caregiver burnout arise, take action and don’t hesitate to let a professional support you. Feel free to get in touch with us for a free 15-minute call. An experienced psychologist or coach can help you develop skills and strategies to deal with challenging emotions in a safe place, where your thoughts and feelings will be understood.
Remember, it’s not “selfish” to prioritize yourself when someone you care about is in need. It’s a smart strategy! By staying healthy and balanced, you’ll feel more resilient in the long run (and more able to take on your care duties).
Photo: Sơn Bờm/Pexels
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