You love your parents, but caring for them as they age can seem like a full-time job. As they begin to decline, you end up taking over more of the tasks that they used to be able to do on their own. You worry about their physical and mental health. Are they eating right? Did they take their medication today? Have they been keeping track of their finances? Should they still be driving? Is it safe for them to stay at home by themselves? All the checking in, transporting to doctors appointments, additional housework, and tough conversations can be overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that before we can care for our elderly parents, we must first take care of ourselves. It’s not selfish; it’s survival. We must take care of our own well-being, or we won’t be of much help to anyone. But how can we make time for ourselves when there’s so much to be done caring for our parents?
We often don’t take a step back to acknowledge our stress level until it’s already taken a toll on our health, so the first step of caring for ourselves is to recognize the early warning signs. Are you frequently forgetting where you put things? Do you always seem to feel tired, no matter how much sleep you get, or are you having trouble falling asleep at night? Have you been irritable lately? It might be time to check-in with yourself and take an honest assessment of your level of stress.
Once you’ve acknowledged the impact stress is having on your physical and mental well-being, you can begin to take measures to alleviate the strain. Figure out the root cause of the stress. Having too much on your plate, not feeling like you can say no, family drama, or feelings of inadequacy can all contribute to the tension you’re feeling.
Having identified the source(s), consider which ones you have the ability to control and which ones you don’t. You can’t control the fact that your mother has dementia and can’t be left alone, but you can ask for help in looking after her. Take action to mitigate the stressors that you can, even small changes, will allow you to regain a sense of control in your life. It could be taking a half hour to yourself each day to curl up with a book, meditation, getting outdoors, meeting up with a friend, whatever works for you.
Attend to Your Physical Needs
When you’re on the go and under stress, it can be easy to forget about the essentials, like eating and sleeping. Along with managing stress, your body needs rest and proper nutrition in order to function. Make sure that you’re eating and getting enough sleep.
It’s okay to ask a friend or family member to take mom or dad for a bit on the weekend. There are also senior centers and adult day care facilities that can provide you with a respite. Use that time to prep quick and easy nutritious meals for the week so that you don’t have to think about it in between work, phone calls, physical therapy, and doctors appointments. Missing meals can leave you feeling irritable and tired, so make sure you take the time to eat regularly throughout the day.
Have a set bedtime to help you fall asleep faster. Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual that will allow you to get a good night’s sleep can be helpful. Read for a bit, lower the lights, do some breathing exercises, meditate and give your body time to wind down at the end of the day. That way, you can wake up feeling rested and ready for the day ahead.
All too often, we sacrifice our own health for those we love. Make sure you keep your doctor’s appointments and see your family doctor for regular checkups. Seek medical advice or treatment if you experience changes in your health. In the long run, visiting the doctor now can prevent you from being out of commission for an extended period later.
Nurture Social Connections
Maintaining friendships and social connections is important even if it may be the last thing on your mind. At the end of the day, we all need to feel connected and supported. Being a caregiver can often feel isolating and lonely without many opportunities for peer interaction, so it is vital to make sure that you take breaks now and then. Go out for an evening or get away for a weekend. Catch up with a friend over coffee or take the time to write a letter.
It can be hard to make the time for yourself when you’re so wrapped up in caring for a loved one. While taking care of aging parents can be tough, it can also be rewarding as long as you make time for yourself and practice good self-care. Reach out for help when you need it and utilize the resources available to you. Just remember, you don’t have to go it alone.