As more and more baby boomers enter their golden years, they find themselves taking care of aging parents, or sometimes an ailing spouse or family member.
It’s never part of the plan, and it has a way of taking over your life. Ironically, when people become caregivers, many stop taking care of themselves.
Have you given up time with friends and family to care for a loved one? Stopped exercising and resorted to unhealthy quick meals and snacks? Is all your free time spent caring for your dependent, cooking, cleaning and sleeping?
Eventually you’ll exhaust yourself and you’ll be left feeling resentment, anger, frustration, loneliness and unhappiness.
Consider this metaphor. Your car needs a certain level of maintenance, an oil change, fuel, check-ups, air in the tires, etc. Before you run to the gas station, you need to know what type of fuel your car needs. Similarly, if you want to get an oil change, your attendant must be sure to put in the right oil.
Well, the same goes for you.
You can’t keep running on fumes. You must refuel. If you are giving all of your energy to others without refueling, you will soon be on empty.
You can’t just run out and refuel, though; you have to know what type of fuel you need.
So consider the person you were before becoming a caregiver. Did you love hiking, grabbing a coffee with a friend or going to see a new movie? Well, now we know what you need to fuel up.
Your “fuel” will be things such as exercise, nutrition, sleep, pleasurable activities, social events, alone time, relaxation, etc.
Most people say, “I don’t have time.”
But I challenge you to find that time. You just have to prioritize yourself, so you can be a better you, which will lead to you being a better caretaker.
One of the best ways to follow through is to put time into your schedule. Yes, schedule a designated period of time in your schedule just for you. It can start as 15 minutes of meditation and become an hour of a pleasurable activity, but the key to success is planning it into your schedule. The more concrete you can be, the more likely you will be to follow through.
My best advice is to schedule a specific time, place and activity. For example: Block 30 minutes to sit outside, drink your favorite cup of tea and listen to the birds at 6 p.m. Wednesday evenings. Make it a date with yourself.
A lunch date with a friend wouldn’t happen unless you committed to a specific date and time. This is the type of commitment you must make for yourself.
One small activity can bring tremendous happiness to a caregiver who feels overwhelmed. Often the rewards surpass the anticipated results.
What have you got to lose? You deserve it and the people around you deserve to enjoy you as the best version of yourself.
Amber Stirlen is a licensed clinical psychologist with NorthBay Center for Primary Care.