Caring for someone else can be rewarding and exhausting. Often, caregivers say, “My spouse is the one with cancer, but now I’m the one in the hospital!” The combination of loss, prolonged stress, and physical demands of caregiving, along with the biological changes that occur with age, can place caregivers at risk for significant health problems, as well as an earlier death.
If you are a caregiver, especially for someone with an ongoing disease or at the end of life, your role is likely to continually evolve as you meet your loved one’s changing needs. You must continually re-evaluate your own state of wellness, acknowledge your strengths, and keep working toward the best possible health for yourself. It’s important to attend to more than just your physical and emotional health. Be sure you’re taking care of all aspects of yourself.
You can benefit tremendously from a variety of wellness and stress management techniques. These techniques help you take care of yourself and your needs so you can be in the best possible position to help the person you care for.
There are many ways to care for yourself when you are caring for another. These suggestions can provide you with important ways to help you stay well.
Caregivers may often feel a range of emotions from anger, fear, and guilt to sadness, depression, jealousy, helplessness, and despair. Support groups are one option to provide you with a safe place to share your emotions and experiences, seek and give advice, and exchange practical information with others.
Support groups help you realize you are not alone in your feelings and experiences. Offered all over the country and in many communities, they provide a wonderful opportunity for informal networking and positive peer group relationships.
You can also obtain support from many sources such as mental health teams, physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, spiritual care providers (such as pastors), social workers, and case managers.
Consider Self-Reflection and Self-Awareness
Self-reflection is a process of turning your attention or awareness inward to examine your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. It includes self-exploration, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing yourself.
By increasing your self-awareness, you can better understand your outward behavior and how others respond to it, thereby improving your personal relationships. Self-awareness is closely linked to the concept of living in the present, because lessons learned from the past are important in improving behavior in the present leading to greater peace of mind.
Reframe Your Perspective
Stressors abound in life, and your perception of the stressor, not the stressor itself, makes for either a “mountain” or a “molehill”. Cognitive restructuring is a technique that substitutes negative, self-defeating thoughts with positive, affirming thoughts to change the perception of the stressor from threatening to nonthreatening.
Negative thoughts and attitudes have been shown to depress the immune system, decrease life expectancy, and affect mental health. Psychologists use the term self-fulfilling prophecy to describe the link between perceptions, beliefs, and related behaviors.
Cognitive restructuring can be achieved through four simple steps:
- Be aware of stressors and acknowledge them. Identify why these situations and events are stressors and identify the emotions associated with them.
- Reappraise the situation. See whether a different (more objective) viewpoint restructures the situation. Understand which situations you can control and which must be accepted as out of your control.
- Adopt the new frame of mind, substituting a negative perspective for a positive one.
- Evaluate whether this process worked and, if so, how beneficial it was so you can decide whether to use it again.
If you are like most people, your imagination is probably one of your least utilized resources. But imagination is very powerful and can be used to remember and re-create the past, develop insights into the present, influence physical health, enhance creativity, inspire, and anticipate the future. Imagination is useful when utilizing imagery since an effective imagination helps you produce the mental images needed for the process. Imagery is a flow of thoughts that you can see, hear, feel, smell, or taste in your imagination. It is a rich, symbolic, highly personal language that involves fantasy as well as experience.
Imagery has three main characteristics that assist in the healing process:
- It directly affects your physiology.
- It provides insight and perspective into health by using association and combining elements together.
- It is intimately connected to your emotions, which are at the root of many health conditions.
Imagery influences your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, brainwave rhythms, gastrointestinal function, sexual arousal, levels of hormones and neurotransmitters in the blood, and immune system function.
But imagery is probably most useful when it helps you find meaning in difficult or challenging events and situations and helps you control your patterns of thinking. It makes your mind more receptive to new information; helps reduce fear, anxiety, and pain; and helps reduce your body’s stress responses.
Use Art To Heal
Nearly everyone has found himself or herself doodling while talking on the phone, or painting or sculpting as a hobby. When creating any kind of art, you may find that your feelings and ideas change, and you may even feel yourself transported away from your everyday worries. Involvement with art can alter feelings, clear your mind, and raise your consciousness. Involvement with art is a very therapeutic process.
The ability of the arts to enhance health has been known since the beginning of time. Art as a wellness strategy improves relaxation and helps you be more aware of challenging physical and emotional issues. One of the greatest effects of art is its ability to help you heal after experiencing pain, loss, and/or death. Caregivers who use art therapy often find that the spontaneous, uncensored nature of art therapy provides a powerful, healing, and revealing therapeutic release that can bring feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Art therapy can help you or your loved one feel less pain; reduce the amount of pain medication needed; decrease anxiety levels; and lower blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rates.
Originating from the French word “journée”, meaning “from sunrise to sunset,” journals began as a way to orient the traveler home.
Journaling is a creative, fulfilling, insightful, and therapeutic exercise. By writing about an experience, you make it your own, explore its meaning, and ultimately experience a way to release the experience and the feelings associated with it. Journaling improves your physical health, enhances your immune system, improves your wound healing and memory function, and results in fewer visits to medical practitioners. It relieves stress and improves relaxation, lessens fatigue and pain, reduces high blood pressure, and improves sleep.
Journaling provides an opportunity to control and organize your thoughts and, by transferring the thoughts to paper, to avoid low-grade stress. Since most people naturally struggle to fully express all their emotions to others verbally, journaling provides a way to release at least some toxic or stressful thoughts via writing.
Journaling should not replace medical treatment, but it is effective in working through issues that might otherwise stay hidden or suppressed. Deep-seated emotional issues may surface and cause sadness but, over time, the process of writing down thoughts and insights you feel calmer, happier, and more accepting of yourself.