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Why Caregivers Should Not Forget About Self-Care

Rebecca Reagan is an author currently of two books, "An Empty Chair: My Miracle" and "Caregiving: Seven Tips to Avoid Burnout." Her newest book, "Eight Ways to De-Stress for Better Health" will be released in early 2017.

You have to take care of yourself first in order to care for others

While there are few things more rewarding than being a caregiver to someone you love, it is very important to remember some self-care too.

Caregivers often get so busy taking care of their patient that they forget their own needs, which causes higher incidents of depression and burnout along with many illnesses and diseases. Not only that, but caregivers who make time for themselves are happier and convey a more upbeat attitude to their patient.

As a caregiver for 40 years, I adopted several self-care techniques that not only help my own health, but allow me to be a more effective caregiver, and shared them in my book, Caregiving: Seven Tips to Avoid Burnout. I learned many of these strategies the hard way and faced the consequences of not doing them from the start. Here are a few ways to help yourself along with your patient.

Eat right

Eating regular nutritious meals is important to stay healthy. It also helps give you energy, which caregivers desperately need. If you do not eat properly, you are more susceptible to illnesses like colds and viruses. While convenient, eating fast food causes obesity, high cholesterol and Type-2 diabetes which are prevalent illnesses in caregivers. Instead of running through the drive-thru, try cooking larger meals and freezing portions for those days you are too busy or exhausted to cook.

More: 40 Years of Caring for Others Helped Me Recover From a Coma

Sleep while they are sleeping

It can be tempting to do things like cleaning and other chores while your loved one is resting, but sometimes the best thing you can do is sleep while they are sleeping. Some people need frequent care throughout the night, which may mean that your sleep is also disrupted. If you have worked all day while they were resting, you may not get enough rest to maintain good health. Being exhausted may make you more short-tempered than you would like to be.

Make time for yourself

Make time for a walk or to visit a friend. Go to a movie or get a cup of coffee. Even a few minutes can be beneficial. Read a book. Take a bath. Anything to allow yourself to relax for just a bit can help you not be so stressed out.

Don’t sell your family and friends short, either. Sometimes friends and family want to help but just aren't sure how to go about it. Be honest and let them know what you need help with. If you do not have another family member who can give you a break, check for community services that are available. There are not only many organizations that offer this; some have volunteers who will gladly come for a few hours to allow you to do something for yourself. Often, friends from church or the community are more than happy to come help out a few hours here and there to give caregivers a break.

More: 6 Things I've Learned From Being My Mother's Caregiver

Don't forget to move

Take a brisk walk. Workout with a friend for half an hour. Any exercise you can get will help you stay healthier and feel more refreshed because it triggers endorphins in your brain, which help improve your mood and give you energy. Even taking short breaks and doing yoga moves will be helpful.

Talk to a friend

Having someone to talk to can be especially beneficial to help you deal with the added stress of caregiving. Don’t try to isolate yourself from friends just because you are taking care of your loved one. Find someone you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with about being a caregiver and your loved one's illness. Don’t try to go it alone. Caregivers who isolate themselves and try to do everything without support are extremely likely to find themselves depressed and burned out.

Don't neglect your own health

Often, caregivers fail to maintain their health by forgetting to see their doctor when they are having problems of their own. If you become sick, who will take over for you? The best thing you can do for your loved one is to maintain good physical health while taking care of them. Caregivers are under lots of extra stress and often develop high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, high cholesterol and many other serious health issues. Talk to your doctor if you feel you are having problems in any area. Don’t wait.

More: How Cancer Changes Caregivers

While doing all these things may not stop you from developing an illness, you will be less susceptible to some chronic health issues. Caregivers who eat nutritional meals, exercise and get plenty of rest are much better able to fight off illnesses. Having someone to talk to instead of bottling up your fears and feelings decreases the chances of depression and burnout. Taking time for yourself and seeing your doctor as needed helps maintain balance in times of extreme stress.

Even if you do not think you can afford to take the time needed to do these things from your loved one, it is imperative that you make an effort to stay healthy — it's beneficial for everyone.

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