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WEGO Post #19: 3 Tips for Caregivers

Posted Nov 20 2013 10:58am

To celebrate National Health Blog Post Month, WEGO Health is hosting a 30 Days, 30 Posts Challenge for health-related bloggers. Each day, they have a different topic for a short blog post, with a Facebook page for posting links. Today's topic: 3 Pieces of Advice for Caregivers.

That was actually yesterday's topic, but you should be used to my always being behind by now! Besides, this is a timely topic that deserves attention because November is also National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the unsung heroes in our lives: those who devote themselves to taking care of ill family members or friends. For more information, plus resources like books and websites for caregivers, check out this older post on National Family Caregivers Month from November 2009 .

I have unusual insight on this topic because I am not only a chronically ill person who sometimes needs help myself but also a caregiver of my two sons. Thank goodness they are both doing OK at the moment and in school, but they've both had CFS (one mild and one more severe) since 2004, and my older son also has Lyme disease and two other tick-borne infections. So, I have had many years of caring for them when they are in bad shape or crash (my older son has been completely incapacitated at times). Those are difficult times, indeed, when I am sick myself but also needing to take care of them.

So, from first-hand experience, here are my Top 3 Tips for Caregivers
Take Care of Yourself. It seems obvious, but even for healthy caregivers, it is easy to overlook your own needs when you are so focused on taking care of someone else. If it seems selfish to think of yourself when your loved one is suffering, just remember that you'll be no good to them if you don't take care of yourself and maintain your own health (as much as you can). Eat a healthy diet, get enough rest, exercise if you are able to, and get outdoors as much as possible. Doing these things for yourself makes you a better caregiver.

Connect with Others. It is so important to connect with other people in similar situations and so much easier now with the internet! In a recent post on favorite quotes , I included this one
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought that no one but myself...'.”
          - C.S. Lewis
It is such a powerful feeling when you meet (whether in person or online) someone in the same situation as you, someone who instantly understands the challenges you face. It feels like a huge relief, like a weight being lifted from your shoulders, when you are able to talk to someone else who totally gets it. If you are a parent taking care of a sick child, teen, or young adult, consider joining our Facebook group for Parents (just send me a quick e-mail or leave a comment here or on my Facebook page to let me know who you are - that way I can approve your membership right away without a background check). If you are some other sort of caregiver - a spouse taking care of a sick partner or a child taking care of a sick parent, etc. - then try that blog post from November 2009 - there are plenty of links there for caregivers.

Take a Break. Though similar to #1, Take Care of Yourself, just taking care of yourself on a daily basis isn't enough. You also need to take a break once in a while. Find someone else - a friend or family member, someone from church, a professional caregiver - who can take over your duties for a while, and get out of the house!  Whether it's an hour-long lunch with friends or a weekend away by yourself, getting away from your duties is rejuvenating and will help you to be a calmer, more patient caregiver. A year and a half ago, I had ignored all of this advice for too long, had two sick kids at home, and got to the point where I felt like I was just going to explode. An impromptu weekend away by myself helped immensely. Having no responsibilities and no one to take care of but myself for 24 hours felt life-changing, and I came back a better caregiver for my sons. If you can't manage a weekend (mine didn't cost anything - I stayed at a friend's beach rental in the off-season!), at least get out by yourself once a week or so - not to go to the drugstore or grocery store but to do something just for you. See a movie, go shopping for yourself, have lunch or dinner with friends, go to a museum...whatever fulfills and restores you.

Being a caregiver is a never-ending, challenging, and often thankless job. I hope these tips help to make things easier - and if you are the ill one, then encourage your caregivers to do these things!
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