If you are an informal caregiver for a family member or other loved one, it's important to take good care of yourself as well. Here are some self-care strategies to help you maintain a healthy balance.
If you routinely care for someone, such as an older relative, chronically ill friend, or disabled family member, you're not alone — at least one third of American adults provides unpaid, informal care for someone.
While paid caregivers often have access to ongoing training, ready advice, and support from their employers, it can be harder for informal caregivers to find similar resources. Additionally, many informal caregivers are also juggling a full-time job and personal responsibilities.
That's why it's essential to follow some key self-care strategies to help preserve your autonomy, health, and well-being. Here are some to consider.
Determine your boundaries. Whatever you give of your time, talents, or funds to help the person you care for, it's not usually viable or healthy to do it all. Prioritize tasks so that you can achieve a better balance between what the person needs and what you can offer — and try not to feel guilty when you pass on something that's more than you can handle.
Don't be shy about requesting or accepting help. Once you've set boundaries, it can be much easier to say "Not me" instead of "No." Sometimes the best support you can provide for someone is to ask for help from others or research resources instead of doing everything for them yourself. Create a list of things you take care of, then identify which ones you can delegate to someone else.
Find your people. Online support groups can be a godsend for informal caregivers, who turn to each other for ideas, encouragement, venting, and affirmation. You can find groups for general caregiver support as well as specialized ones for those caring for people living with Alzheimer's or a chronic health condition. To search options, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance or Caregiving Resource Center.
Schedule time for self-care. Life can be so hectic that there seems to be no time for yourself. In the long run, you will be a much more effective caregiver if you prioritize your own well-being by ensuring you do something active and mindful each day. That might be a 15-minute walk and a few 10-minute mindfulness breaks throughout the day to just breathe deeply and clear your head. Apps such as Headspace and Calm can help you fit these mindful moments into your day, no matter where you are.
Don't neglect your health. Besides keeping up with recommended immunizations and health screenings, it's important that your daily routine includes a healthy diet, plenty of water, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene. If you struggle with any of these, let your doctor know that you're a caregiver and could use assistance.
Your EAP and other resources
If you have medical coverage through the Board of Pensions, you can turn to your Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)* for self-help articles, e-learning modules, checklists, seminars, and other supportive resources.
To access these resources, log on to the Cigna website (one-time registration is required); use pcusa for Employee's Employer ID), then select Coverage and the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP). Under Home Life Referrals, click on the SeeWork/Life Resources link. Then select the Aging tab and choose Caregivers.
*The EAP is not available to members enrolled in Triple-S, GeoBlue, or the Medicare Supplement Plan.