Coping with a Loved One’s Chronic Illness: Self-care for the Caregiver

Image of loved ones discussing caregiver and self-care options around coping with chronic illness.

Are you caring for a loved one living with a chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes or cancer? In addition to the physical toll that may come with helping someone dress, walk or bathe, there is also an emotional toll that accompanies caregiving. It therefore follows that in order to properly take care of your loved one, you have to start by properly taking care of yourself. 

Here are three areas to address:

Physical Preparation

Staying in shape is one of the most important necessities behind being a successful caregiver. If your loved one suffers from Parkinson’s, arthritis or other chronic illnesses, they’ll likely rely on you for assistance with mobility at some point. This means you have to be physically strong enough to do things like:

  • Move your loved one in and out of bed
  • Help your loved one get in and out of the car
  • Help your loved one get in and out of the shower
  • Carry or move objects that they no longer can

The best way to prepare yourself for these tasks is to do some simple exercises. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to build strength. Instead you can spend some time during your day doing yoga, basic stretches, taking walks or jogs, and performing basic strength training workouts. 

In addition to making changes to your workout routine, you should also make sure that you’re providing your body with a healthy diet. Without proper nutrition, your body can’t build muscle during your workouts, defeating the purpose of exercise.

Most importantly, you should find and maintain the level of fitness that you feel is best for YOU. As long as you have the strength and stamina to keep up with your loved one’s physical needs, you don’t need to overdo things.

Mental Preparation

Around-the-clock caregiving is likely more mentally grueling than physically. It can lead to exhaustion, stress and eventual burnout if not managed properly. Here are some of the best ways you can foster a positive state of mind specifically while dealing with chronic illness in your family:

Develop a sleep schedule that coincides with your loved one’s needs. 

If your loved one is mainly autonomous at night but needs more assistance in the mornings while getting their day started, try to go to sleep early so you can be up and ready in the morning. No one, including yourself, wants to start their day helping someone else while being groggy and tired.

Don’t forget to care about yourself. 

Managing a loved one’s chronic illness will of course make you responsible for many additional aspects of their life. However, that should not come at the expense of your own life. Don’t forget that your own wants and needs exist too. Devote parts of your day solely to self-care and continue to do the things that bring you joy. Also be sure to stay on top of your own medical needs, including medications, doctor’s appointments, etc.

Set priorities and take time to appreciate what you’ve done. 

A toxic trait that many caregivers develop is the inability to realize just how much good you’ve already done. Instead, caregivers will often complete one task and immediately think “what’s next,” instead of giving themselves a break. In order to avoid burnout, you need to prioritize specific tasks and be able to take a step back once you’ve finished what you know is most important. 

Prepare a “Social Safety Net”

Chronic illness within the family can often make family members feel as though they’re bearing the entire load of responsibility for their loved one. While these diagnoses do mean more work for the family, it doesn’t mean you should be the only option available to navigate your loved one through their chronic illness. 

It’s crucial that caregivers understand it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out to family and friends and devise a care plan that takes your well-being into account. Their assistance can allow you to have more time to relax and finally have some hard-earned down time. 

You can also go beyond your immediate network and find help via respite care. Respite care is specifically designed to give you a break from being your family’s primary caregiver. Learn more about SYNERGY HomeCare’s in-home respite care services

People living with chronic illnesses require physical and emotional support. It can often be an overwhelming experience stepping into the shoes of a caregiver during these difficult times and there is absolutely no shame in feeling unprepared when doing so. However, you can find solace knowing that there are ways to tangibly improve your ability to care for your loved one—by taking care of yourself as well.

SYNERGY HomeCare offers no obligation home assessments. Find a location near you or Contact us to learn how we can provide professional in-home caregiving and respite care services for those living with a chronic illness or disability.

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