The very best caregivers are typically those who are also best friends to themselves.
That is the overarching theme of an important new book, Self-Care for Caregivers: A Practical Guide to Caring for You While You Care for Your Loved One, by author, blogger, and long-time caregiver Susanne White. The book is packed with dozens of practical tips from White who served for years as a caregiver for both of her now-deceased parents — and who, even now at age 70 — continues to be a caregiver for family members.
“Caregivers are the most adaptable human beings on the planet,” says White. “I’m concerned how caregivers are so completely focused on someone else that they stop focusing on themselves. That’s dangerous. It’s a silent epidemic.”
Self-care, White says, is the fine art of prioritizing your own needs even as you look out for the well-being of a loved one. This is where most caregivers fail. By her own estimates, fewer than 5 percent of caregivers indulge in regular self-care. And that’s why so many caregivers find themselves in a daily struggle for survival. They struggle physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Caregivers deserve peace, well-being, and a happy life,” she says.
How to get there? White shares some advice.
Make time for self-care. Somehow, caregivers are always able to find endless amounts of time to offer care to their loved ones — particularly during times of crisis. White suggests caregivers carve out 15 percent from the time they would devote to their loved ones to themselves. “We all have caregiver burnout from time to time, but there’s a big difference in hitting the wall at 15 miles per hour vs. 150 miles per hour,” she says. “Lightning won’t strike you for taking time for yourself.”
Take simple escapes. Most of us need to take breaks because we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired — or some combination of these. If you’re hungry, eat a snack. If you’re angry, step outside for a few minutes. If you’re lonely, pick up the phone and call an understanding friend or relative. If you’re tired, take a short nap. “The people we care for want us to take breaks. They don’t want to see us exhausted, frustrated, or in pain,” says White. “They don’t want to feel guilty about us taking care of them.”
Seek the help of others. Perhaps the best source of help and consolation is that of other caregivers who have the experience, knowledge, know-how, and empathy that no one else does, says White. “I thought that I could do it all myself until I realized I had burnout,” she says. When she finally called others for help — including friends, relatives and other caregiver acquaintances — she says, “They actually thanked me for finally asking them. They said that they were waiting to help me.”