We all know them: the people who model lives of service and never seem to take thought for themselves. Where would we be without them? Whether in our families, our places of worship, or out in the community, there just seem to be certain people who possess the gift of service, and our lives are the better for knowing them.
But there’s a danger. Though we often forget it, caregivers need care, too. The problem is, the very people we depend on most to take care of others often don’t do enough to take care of themselves.
This is particularly true of persons in the “sandwich generation”: those who may be simultaneously raising children and also caring for aging parents or other relatives. People in this situation can easily start to burn the candle at both ends, and the end result of that isn’t going to be good for anyone.
Especially if you or someone you love is providing care for older family members, there are some important principles that can help you remember to give yourself the care you need in order to continue to be able to care for the others who are so important to you.
First, don’t skimp on yourself. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, many caregivers are prone to:
- not getting enough sleep;
- not eating healthy;
- skipping exercise;
- “powering through” instead of resting when they’re ill;
- postponing or ignoring medical appointments.
They are also at risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. And it’s not surprising: when your entire focus is on taking care of someone else, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself.
Caregivers also need to watch for signs of “caregiver stress,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Signs include:
- feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried;
- frequent fatigue;
- sleeping either too much or not enough;
- unexplained weight gain or loss;
- prone to irritation or anger;
- loss of interest in activities once enjoyed;
- frequent feelings of sadness;
- frequent headaches, body aches, or similar complaints;
- drug or alcohol abuse.
The fact is that taking too much on yourself for too long a period will often lead to poor emotional and physical health, rendering you unfit to care for anybody. So, what can you do to give yourself the care you need? The Mayo Clinic recommends several behaviors that can help caregivers take better care of themselves.
Accept help. You may actually need to write out a list of tasks or needs that would lighten your load. Maybe a family member can take Uncle Frank to lunch one or two days a week so you can take a break. Maybe a team of friends can take over for you one or two days a week, on a rotating basis. The point is, you need to let others know you need help, and you need to accept it when it’s offered.
Get connected. Many communities offer resources, such as classes where you can learn more about the condition affecting your loved one, coaching for caregivers, and even support groups where caregivers can listen to each other and provide nurture and advice. Also, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides an online directory of educational and other resources for caregivers.
Set personal goals. Remember, your life is about more than the person you’re caring for. It’s not selfish to have goals for yourself and work to achieve them. In fact, it will make you a healthier person—and a better caregiver.
See your doctor. Taking care of your health is essential, especially if you want to be helpful to someone else. Maintain a regular schedule of checkups and preventative care, and make it a priority.
At Mathis Wealth Management, we understand that providing the resources to care for older family members can be a vital financial priority. Our professional, fiduciary financial planning services help our clients sort through their options and develop strategies to reduce the stress of caring for others. Learn more about our financial planning services.