How to watch out for your well-being while caring for aging parents

Caring for an aging parent requires juggling multiple roles and responsibilities. But for many caregivers, one thing tends to get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list—caring for their own health and wellbeing.

In order to counteract caregiving’s emotional and physical toll, caregivers need to find ways to protect their own wellness. Two professional caregivers share their advice on learning to balance caring for a loved one and meeting your own needs.

1. Take a Break
Whether it’s your first day or you’ve been a caregiver for years, there can be times when the stress feels like too much to handle. When these moments arise, the best thing to do is to take a little time for yourself. It could be grabbing coffee with a friend, taking a walk or just reading a book. Alone time can allow you to clear your head and recharge before facing what’s causing you stress.

“One of the most important pieces of caregiving is knowing that you shouldn’t feel guilty about not being there all the time,” says Jana Gesinger, Director of Social Services at Mercy Retirement & Care Center. “Make the most out of the time you spend with them, but don’t feel guilty about finding balance. Balance is healthy and positive.”

2. Talk About It
It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one going through the challenges of caring for an aging parent. But there’s always someone there to talk.

“It’s really tough and no one wants to actually say, ‘It’s hard for me to take care of my parents. I don’t feel like a good kid. I’m tired of the responsibility,’” Gesinger says. “But you’re not the only one going through this process—you can learn a lot about coping methods and acceptance by being open about what you’re going through.”

Gesinger recommends talking to friends, family, or even a therapist. Many senior living communities provide support groups for family caregivers. If you can’t make time to leave the house, there are several online communities for caregivers. Verbalizing your feelings can help give you perspective and boost emotional well-being.

3. Compartmentalize
It can be difficult to separate your role as a caregiver from your personal life. But blending the two can make it feel as if your life revolves around caregiving, leaving you feeling overwhelmed. “The more you separate the stress of personal problems from caregiving problems, the less they will build on each other,” says Gaylyn Hayden, a memory care caregiver and part-time mentor at AlmaVia of Camarillo.

Compartmentalizing requires prioritizing. Honestly evaluate what’s most important in your life, whether it’s keeping close friendships or maintaining your career. Then deliberately schedule time away from caregiving to make sure you’re preserving what matters to you. This may involve setting boundaries, but remember that caregiving is only one aspect of your life.

4. Stay Positive
Even the most optimistic people may feel strained in a caregiving situation. But maintaining a positive outlook can improve quality of life for you and the person you are supporting. “When they see a smile on your face it affects them personally,” says Hayden. “If you’re able to control your tone and work with care and attention then they’ll notice your positive energy and trust you more.”

Acceptance is the first step to a more positive outlook. Instead of focusing on what can’t be changed, try to come to terms with the present situation and what you do have power over. Your loved one’s health may not improve, but you can influence other factors, such as her environment, to make life easier for both of you.

5. Find Your Own Medicine
Go out of your way to cultivate and keep healthy habits. Gesinger explains it with the common analogy of using an oxygen mask on a plane; you’re not going to be able to help anyone else if you don’t help yourself first. She says to find the right “medication” for you – whether or not it’s prescribed.

“Taking the time everyday to deliberately focus on something healthy is so important,” she says. “Whether it’s carving out time to exercise, making a diet adjustment to boost your health or giving yourself more sleep, steps to keep your mind and body healthy are vital for you and the parent.”

For more information on caring for an aging parent, visit our Caregiver Resources section.