As a caregiver, your primary goal is to ensure the well-being of someone you love. But to do this effectively, you also have to prioritize caring for your own needs. As a nod to yourself, make a point to remember the do’s and don’ts of self-care.
Do: Work Your Mind
Your mind and body are intricately connected. If you want to have a healthy body, you have to prioritize your brain. When you were little, you gave your mind a workout by doing things like playing with dolls and putting together puzzles. Now that you are older, you have other tools at your disposal. Brain training software like Cognifit and BrainHQ, along with off-line activities, such as traveling and learning a new hobby, can improve your cognitive abilities.
Don’t: Forget About Your Body
Keeping your mind active is only part of the exercise puzzle. You also have to put your body in motion. This is much easier said than done, however, when you devote the majority of your time to someone else’s needs. The AARP suggests keeping your exercise routine simple and writing down your fitness goals. This can encourage you to stick to your workout.
Many people find that a smartwatch can be instrumental in helping them achieve their fitness goals and monitoring progress. In an ideal world, you might strive for 10,000 steps a day. If you’re using your smartwatch for fitness, be sure to pair it with an attachable armband and a sturdy and easy-to-use watch band. As anyone who has been a caregiver recognizes, it’s not always possible to leave the house. In that case, marching in place or climbing up and down the stairs can give you that all important cardio exercise.
Do: Check Your Gut Health.
Fitness. Check. Brain health. Check. What you might have missed while working out and flexing your cranial capacity is the health of your gut. Your abs may be toned, but just behind your belly in your gastrointestinal tract lives a universe of bacteria. This is your microbiome, and according to Time, it contains microorganisms that do everything from controlling inflammation to putting you at a greater risk for diseases like multiple sclerosis and diabetes.
Fortunately, our gut bacteria are largely dependent on nutrition. You have to eat foods that encourage healthy bacterial cultivation. This includes things like Greek yogurt and sauerkraut. If you don’t like these foods, you can always add a multivitamin to your diet that contains polyphenols. A multivitamin can also improve your energy level and the overall appearance of your skin.
Don’t: Live Off Fast Food
There are so many reasons that fast food is bad for you that it would be impossible to cover them all in this article. However, what it comes down to is that processed foods, especially those that contain tons of trans fats, put you at risk of obesity and, surprisingly, nutritional starvation. A daily cheeseburger might increase your risk of cancer and can undo all of the good work you’ve done training your brain. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a milkshake every now and then, but do not make drive-through dinners or frozen foods part of your daily diet.
Do: Take Some Time for Yourself and Don’t Feel Guilty About It!
Whether you are caring for an infant, a disabled sibling, or a parent with Alzheimer’s, you have to make time for you. There are other people in your life, and you owe it to yourself to spend time with them, as well as with yourself.
Time alone can help you break away from stress and anxiety, and this can turn you into a better caregiver. Unfortunately, getting away is often the most difficult aspect of self-care for many caregivers. It is easy to feel guilty when removing yourself from your responsibilities, even though you know it is temporary and for the best. Keep in mind that although availability is limited, there are respite care programs in most major cities. You can always ask for help from friends and family or find a caregiver to step in while you step out.
You have a difficult job, and you are giving another human being the greatest gift it’s possible to bestow–your time. Caring for another is truly a labor of love. Show yourself some love by engaging in self-care. And remember, the things you do for yourself will benefit everyone.