Published on December 18, 2012

Caregiver Stress: Take Care of Yourself

The best way to take care of others is to take care of you first. If “putting yourself first” sounds too selfish or too hard, try something simpler: Put yourself on an equal footing with those you love and tend to. Do you insist that they get enough sleep? Do you give them time for fun and socializing with friends? Then you do the same!

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Human beings must meet their basic needs before they can move on to higher-level goals. Since most of us already know that we should take care of ourselves, but often have trouble figuring out how to do it, here are some guidelines for getting there:

Eat nourishing meals. Sometimes it may be easiest to grab fast food or to skip a meal, but don’t make this a habit. Strive to eat balanced meals regularly. A diet that consists mostly of plant-based foods is best. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Exercise. Working out is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy and keep up your stamina. Experts recommend doing 30 minutes of an activity that gets your heart rate up (such as walking briskly or jogging) four to five times a week, and doing exercises that help maintain flexibility, such as yoga, one to two times a week. Sometimes you can kill two birds with one stone, like combining family time with exercise, which benefits everyone involved.

Get plenty of rest. Start making that a priority for yourself, too. Practice good sleeping habits by taking time to wind down and relax before bedtime, and try to get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Practicing relaxation techniques and deep-breathing exercises also can help reduce stress.

Keep up with your own medical appointments and medications. Make sure you receive regular checkups from your health care provider and for any health conditions you may have. Stay on track with your medications and recommended screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

Find someone to open up to. Don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Value your emotional health as much as the physical. A support system of friends and a willingness to laugh, especially at yourself, can go a long way towards keeping a balanced emotional health. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust — your partner, family member, friend, clergy or social worker — can make your concerns seem more manageable. Caregiver support groups are also available in all the Avera Cancer Centers. These can give you an opportunity to meet and learn from others in similar situations.

Learn to say “No!” Your “yes” is valuable and should not be automatic. Instead, reserve it for the things that are most important to you.

Your life should be like a checking account, balancing out on a regular basis so that you always have assets to draw upon. By making even small deposits — taking care of yourself with a 10-minute walk or a nutritious meal — you’ll be amazed at the interest you’ll reap.

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