Often, so much time is spent addressing the needs of a person in chronic pain that the caregiver can often erode – physically and emotionally. As mentioned in the first part of this three-part series, caregivers must “place the oxygen mask on themselves first” in order to best assist another. Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. Along the journey, it can be helpful to remember these simple thoughts and practical tips on being a healthy caregiver.

 

Five Ways to Remain a Healthy Caregiver…

PHYSICALLY

1) Breathe

We all know how to breathe, right? In high-stress moments, however, we either hyperventilate or hold our breath until it comes out explosively. Given that a crisis requires our best thinking and a calmer demeanor, try inhaling for four seconds, and exhaling slowly for eight. Oxygenated blood can literally decrease stress, increase energy levels and even improve the ability to concentrate and focus. By controlling our breathing, we’re taking control of our stress and bringing our emotions and physical state into a more serene state — which equips us to make better decisions.

2) Move

Daily exercise seems like a no-brainer, but it’s especially difficult for caregivers to make the time to lace up their comfortable shoes and get away. I’m not in great shape (hey, I’m getting stronger!), but even walking my dog gets me moving and improves my body and mind. What activity do you enjoy?

3) Get a Flu Shot

Caregivers often don’t get “sick days.” Save yourself a heap of grief by getting a flu shot. An investment of a few minutes and about $25 on a shot at a neighborhood pharmacy (or free at many health departments) can save money, health and energy in the long run. Do you really have time to get the flu?

4) Eat Well

Pressed for time and in search of comfort, caregivers can make poor choices when it comes to food. I’m a Southerner and enjoy my fried food, but grabbing a bag of apples rather than chips can make a difference. Better choices will make your body (and brain!) feel better. It’s understandable that you might swing by a fast food joint when your loved one is in the hospital, but doing it even after he or she comes home isn’t the healthiest option. Cut out the guilt, carbs and fat, and just eat a well-balanced diet.

5) Visit Your Doctor Regularly

An alarming 72 percent of caregivers do not visit their doctors regularly. It is critical that caregivers be well and make their own health a priority. It may require effort to find someone to fill in while you visit your own doctor for an annual checkup, but it’s worth it. Checking on blood pressure, cholesterol and lab work can help prevent illness that would make caregiving even more difficult. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you are caring for your loved one well if their lifeline (YOU) stays in physical jeopardy from poor health choices— like not seeing your doctor.

EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Remember FOGHAT

Caregivers can bounce all over the emotional map between compassion and frustration, obligation and commitment. The lines get so blurry at times that caregivers can find themselves operating out of intense FEAR, OBLIGATION and GUILT—which can then lead to HEARTACHE, ANGER and TURMOIL.

Get it? In a FOG with a HAT… FOGHAT. (I like 70s music!) That’s enough to make you feel lost in a hurry. So how do planes navigate? They use GPS (global positioning system). Why not caregivers?

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Fear?

I’ve lost track of the times I’ve covered my head with a pillow and crawled under the blanket trying to shut out all the fear racing around in my head. Bills, surgeries, my wife groaning in pain — the list often seems endless. Never knowing what’s around the corner can lead many caregivers to operate in fear.

Try Purpose

Replacing fear with purpose leads to a healthier emotional state. Recognize that you are not at the mercy of an event, but rather can allow this event to reveal meaning and direction in your life in unexpected ways. Allow the circumstances to teach you and equip you to live a more fulfilling life even in the midst of the chaos. Two statements that constantly help me get back on track when I feel myself floundering and not knowing what to do:

“Do the next right thing.”

It may be taking a nap, or painting the living room. It may be making amends for something that was hurtful. Simply do the next right thing.

“No one can do this for a lifetime, but anyone can do it for 24 hours.”

All we have is today. We can’t change the past, nor predict the future. Living in the moment redirects our passion, energy and hearts into enjoying each precious day —regardless of what’s going on around us.

caregiver333Obligation?

Caregivers often (mistakenly) convince ourselves that we need to fix problems, or repair the suffering of the person we care for. When we feel obligated to care for others, we often store up bitterness and resentment, which can erupt into painful outbursts and add misery to an already difficult situation.

Consider Stewardship

Pain is unavoidable; misery is not. When I finally understood I was not responsible for “fixing” my loved one or making everything better, I felt relieved of the burden of feeling in charge. It’s critical that caregivers realize that we did not cause it, nor can we cure it. All we can do is be the best stewards of what is in our power to change: specifically our thoughts, actions and words. Other people’s issues are just that: their issues.

Guilt?

Caregivers can usually get up and move around easily, or shower without pain. In addition, we also make mistakes. These and other factors can lead us to feel guilty. Guilt often drives us to hurl ourselves recklessly into an impossible situation. There are much better ways to deal with guilt than to punish ourselves by attempting to singlehandedly manage the unmanageable.

Try GRACE

Caregivers are humans who make mistakes. Remember this when you’re lying in bed and beating yourself up after a tough day. Ease up. If guilt is driving you to push yourself to inhuman levels, seek professional help. Pastors, mental health workers, social workers—many professionals are available to walk with you through this, but we caregivers have to ask for help, stay connected to community and plan time away to ensure the physical and mental rest we require. {PP}

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