Caring for Yourself While Caregiving for Your Parents

Millions of Americans in the U.S. provide caregiving to an adult family member in need of support. AARP refers to people in this role as unpaid family caregivers.

The majority of family caregivers assist their elderly parents. 

Caregiving for an elderly parent is emotional and physically taxing work, though not all caregivers view it the same way. Some people find that caregiving provides an opportunity to spend time with their parent. Others feel as though they’re running on a hamster wheel, unable to jump off and take a break. 

Either way, caregiving for others often means we neglect our own well-being. Consistently putting others’ needs before our own jeopardizes our physical and mental health. 

What Does it Mean to Be a Caregiver?

Caregiving involves assisting with the daily needs of another person. 

Caregivers provide help with a variety of tasks. 

  • Running errands
  • Preparing food
  • Giving rides to medical appointments
  • Paying bills 
  • Managing medications
  • Upkeep of home and yard

Sometimes an adult child steps into the role of caregiving suddenly---in response to an urgent health issue---and sometimes it’s a slow progression. 

The Challenges of Caregiving for Elderly Parents

Most of us aren’t sitting around waiting until it’s time to take care of our aging parents. We’re working, maybe raising children, and taking care of our own lives. Adding another person’s errands and keeping an eye on their health adds a lot to our plates. Just juggling the different tasks is a challenge.

Then there are the other particular challenges of caregiving for your parents:

  • You may have a troubled relationship with your parent.
  • Even if you have a good relationship, your parent can push your buttons.
  • Your parent may be resistant to receiving help from you because you are their child.
  • Resentments can build for both of you. 
  • You’ll have a front row seat to your parent’s aging, and that will bring up a lot of emotions.

Signs You Need to Take Care of Yourself

Doctors know caregiving brings health challenges for the caregiver

No matter how you slice it, caregiving is hard. Even in the best scenarios, caregivers can feel overwhelmed with all they have to do.

Be aware of these signs that indicate you need to spend some time on self-care.

  • You have trouble sleeping, or you sleep too much.
  • You have headaches, stomachaches, or other pains that are becoming chronic.
  • You feel depressed or anxious.
  • You postpone regular medical appointments.
  • You can’t remember the last time you felt joy.
  • You haven’t seen friends or other family members in a long time.

You Are Not Alone in Your Caregiver Journey

It’s easy to think you are alone in your struggles as a caregiver, especially since social isolation is a common aspect of caregiving. But you are not alone. Millions of people are on the same journey, juggling too many things at once. 

You may not realize it, but there are lots of resources out there to help with your situation. Yes, it takes time to reach out. Yes, it’s another thing to add to your to-do list. But, when you go from feeling isolated and stressed and alone to feeling supported, you’ll be glad you made the call. 

Why Self-Care Matters for Caregivers

It’s easy to forget about taking care of yourself when you’re caring for others. But when you neglect yourself, you’re less able to care for those who depend on you.

Family Caregiver Alliance has this to say on the subject of caregiver well-being. “Caring for yourself is one of the most important---and one of the most often forgotten---things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.”

The term self-care itself sounds, well… selfish. It isn’t selfish, though. It’s what you need to do to take care of your physical and mental health. 

No one is saying you should neglect your parent’s needs, but your well-being needs to be part of the equation. 

Where to Turn for Help

It’s okay to admit you can’t fulfill every aspect of care your parent needs. 

Family Caregiver Family Caregiver wants to help you. Their website has tons of information. You’ll find resources for reducing stress, guidance on how to care for different needs, and a care navigator tool that helps you find services for your loved one. 

Primary care doctor Let your primary care doctor know about your new responsibilities. They can monitor your health concerns more closely. Your PCP may also know of local or online resources that provide support to family caregivers.

Council on Aging Make a call to your local COA or senior center. Ask what resources they offer to seniors and their caregivers. They may provide any or all of the following:

  • Van service to local shopping or medical buildings
  • Daily lunches
  • Regular activities such as a walking club, performances, and special celebrations
  • Resources for elder care home services
  • Support groups for caregivers (see below)

Support Groups As mentioned above, your local senior center may run support groups for caregivers. There are groups that address different issues, such as cancer recovery and dementia. If the center doesn’t run a support group that fits your situation, they probably know of other places that offer them. Many groups take place virtually.

Online Communities Hop on social media to find support online. Search “Caregivers Support Group” on Facebook or Twitter and you’ll find several online groups that offer support. You can read about other people’s experiences, ask questions, or reach out for encouragement on a bad day. Some groups hold virtual events so you can “meet” other people in the group. 

AARP AARP has information on all kinds of issues that affect older Americans. They have extensive resources for caregivers. 

Practicing Self-Care, Even If You Are a Caregiver

Now that we have established that self-care is important for you and your loved one, it’s time to put it into practice. 

Get moderate exercise. Exercise is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth. It helps keep you at a healthy weight, builds muscle, reduces stress, and pumps out feel-good hormones. You know it’s true---you just feel better when you move your body, even a little bit. Try a short walk after dinner or turn on some tunes and dance in your kitchen. Even ten minutes a day is going to make you feel better

Get social. Take a good look at your recent social activity. Have you laid eyes on any of your good friends in real life? Have you seen them virtually? What about a phone call? Social connectedness is vitally important for mental health. If it’s been too long, pick up the phone. Schedule face-to-face time with people who make you laugh.

Get your ‘om’ on. Yoga and meditation can decrease stress, lessen anxiety, and give you a sense of serenity. Getting to an in-person class may be difficult, but there are virtual options. Try a meditation app like Calm or Headspace. Adriene Mishler, creator of yogawithadriene, has hundreds of videos on YouTube. Many are less than thirty minutes. 

Get lazy. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be active. Doing nothing at all can be just what the doctor ordered. Grab a cup of tea and sit outside. Listen to the birds. Lay in bed and read a book. Flop on the couch and watch a couple of hours of TV—in the middle of the day. Give yourself permission to do nothing, knowing that it’s good for you and your loved ones.

Need one less thing to do? We can help—organizing, moving, decluttering, and more. Contact us today.