In recent years, the term self-care has become somewhat of a buzzword, but that does not mean everyone understands what it involves. At its root, self-care is simply making sure your needs are met, especially in times of overwork or stress. Caregiver burnout is a real issue under the best of circumstances. According to the “De-Stress Report”, a study by researchers at Trinity College Dublin looking at the impact of providing care for a spouse with dementia, depression and anxiety were common among family carers (TCD, 2017) and the stress of living through a global pandemic only magnifies this.
The last thing family carers need is a list of things to do for self-care. Far more important is the realisation that your needs as a primary carer are essential. Carving out the necessary time for self-care can be the most difficult work involved. If you have home healthcare workers coming, take advantage of these time slots to eat a nourishing meal, go for a walk or call a good friend for a chat. Delegate certain times to other family members or friends who are part of your support bubble.
It is absolutely essential to “check in with yourself” throughout the day and notice how you are feeling. One practical way to apply this recommendation is through meditation. There are several free meditation apps available for use with smartphones or tablets such as Clam, Headspace or Insight Timer. These apps provide brief guided meditations, some lasting only 5 minutes. If you prefer a low-tech option, you can take a few minutes to mentally scan your body, looking for areas where you feel tense and consciously relaxing them. Ask yourself, “Am I finding that I am more irritable than usual? Am I annoyed by things that I can usually brush aside? Am I experiencing exhaustion, low motivation or sadness?” These can be red flags that you are doing too much and may be at risk of burnout. Listen to these signs and find a way to take a break, get some rest and take care of yourself. If you find that you are really unwell, never hesitate to contact your GP.
Talk therapy can be extremely beneficial for learning to manage stress and prioritise self-care. If leaving the house is not an option, many therapists offer online or telephone sessions. The Alzheimer National Helpline has a free phone where you can speak with someone in confidence on 1800 341341. You can also find a professional counsellor to speak with by contacting the IACP on 01 230 3536 or at https://iacp.ie/page
Resources such as daycare and respite care are on hold during Level 5 restrictions, but reach out to community support professionals such as your GP, district health nurse or your local chapter of the Alzheimer Society and find out what options will be available when the restrictions have eased. Research the supportive resources that are available in your community so you are ready to take advantage of them once it is safe for people to gather again. Information about day centres and respite care can be found on the Alzheimer Society of Ireland website.
Taking good care of yourself means that your loved one gets the very best care you can give.