How caregivers can take better care of themselves

If you’re one of the estimated 65 million Americans who are providing care for a loved one, chances are you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and near the end of your rope.

Yosaif August has been there. Caring for his father when he had cancer brought many rewarding experiences, but living for long stretches away from his home, family and business, he burned out.

“I developed a severe case of the shingles and was doubled over in pain at my father’s funeral,” said August, a life coach and author. “My passion is to teach caregivers how to take better care of themselves than I did, because their well-being is critical for everyone.”

Knowing that people in crisis often have little time or energy, he wrote “Coaching for Caregivers: How to Reach Out Before You Burn Out” (Yes to Life Publishing, 2013, 16.99) in bite-sized increments. August offers easy-to-read tools and resources for dealing with the emotional, spiritual, mental and practical aspects of caregiving.

There are suggestions for reflection and action to help caregivers rediscover their own strengths, get specific about what they need and overcome their reluctance to ask for help. Readers will learn how to find strength and support. Listing many types of resources, the book is a useful guide for caregivers and for nurses, therapists, social workers and chaplains who want to help the families of their patients.

“New research from Johns Hopkins (University) shows that if the stress is managed, caregiving may actually have health benefits. Surprisingly, family caregivers lived longer in a recent study,” August said. “Caregiving can give greater purpose and meaning to life if people find the strategies to also care for themselves.”

These tips can make caregivers more resilient.

1. Let it be; where you are is where you are. Family caregivers rarely have a chance to prepare for the demands of the role. Don’t judge yourself. Accepting who and where you are is the first step in planting your feet on the ground and seeing what you need to do.

2. When everything seems overwhelming, ask yourself “What do I need right now?” Talk to a friend. It might be that seeking help in walking the dog, sending a group email, or accepting a cooked meal from a friend will give you the comfort and relief to meet the road ahead.

3. Set your own privacy boundaries. Caregiving can be isolating but people hesitate to reach out for fear that their family will be invaded. Choose how and with whom you share information and tell people exactly how, when and where you would appreciate support.

4. Use free websites like Lotsa Helping Hands, Caring Bridge or CarePages to manage updates about your loved one with family and friends, and to receive love in return.

5. Remember your forgotten strengths. Never underestimate your reserves of tenacity, courage, humor and faith. Draw on them frequently.

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