The importance of self-care for caregivers

When was the last time you focused on yourself?  If you cannot remember, you might be a caregiver. For many, COVID-19 makes for an uncertain future. For caregivers, the pandemic has heightened feelings of uncertainty. 

It is a very human quality to crave certainty, without it, feelings of fear and anxiety may become more frequent. Uncertainty in combination with increased caregiving tasks during the pandemic can put caregivers at a higher risk for stress and burnout. Signs of “caregiver stress” can include declining health, a lack of energy (but also sleeplessness), and withdrawal from social interactions. When caregiver stress is unaddressed, it can build into “caregiver burden”—physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from the job—which can become dangerous for the caregiver and the people they care for. 

The hopeful news? We have the choice to recognize how we feel and address how we can cope. A great place to start is to look at the difference between coping strategies and self-care, and identify how your well-being can benefit from both approaches. Coping strategies are practices that bring immediate relief, whereas self-care is an ongoing plan to support yourself. Both serve a meaningful purpose, though differ in when you use them. 

A coping strategy, which can help you through a crisis (like when feeling overwhelmed) and provide short-term relief can be as simple as turning  off our phones and picking up a book to dig into for an hour. To transform an act like this into a component of self-care,   carve out one hour every night to disconnect and do something for yourself, whether it be reading, having a treat, laughing, or exercising. 

Self-care can be explored in the following components of your life: physical, social, emotional, occupational (paid and unpaid), and spiritual. To actualize self-care, try creating a visual guide to reflect on your relationship to these components . 

This can be mapped visually by tracing your hand on a piece of paper and assigning each finger a component of self-care. Reflect on: What fills me with energy? What depletes me of energy? What do I have control of and what can I release control of?

On each traced finger, write down what each of the above self-care components means to you, your goals in that component, and activities you can adopt or are already practicing to achieve that goal. Consider: What are the barriers to supporting myself and how can I overcome them? What am I open to trying? 

Similar to your caregiving journey, self-care is a continuous process of reflection and change, often requiring a lifestyle change, and it is not meant to be done alone. In your caregiving role and self-care, reflect on: 

Who in my support system can help me with this? 

In what areas do I need more support? 

How can the person I care for help me? 

What will be the next act you do for yourself?

You have heard it before and I will say it again (after all it has been a while since we travelled by plane), put your oxygen mask on first before helping others.

JFSC (Jewish Family Service Calgary) is a non-denominational social service agency in Calgary, AB. Caring Together Education and Support Group offers local support to caregivers of persons with memory loss or dementia. To learn more about Caring Together contact Samantha at 403-692-6392 or samanthan@jfsc.org Outside of Calgary? You can explore local caregiver support services through 2-1-1. 

 


JFSC presents “Making a Difference”, an Online Speaker Series featuring Tom Jackson (April 11), Karen Gosbee (May 6) and Dr. Ruth Westheimer (October 17), bringing stories about facing adversity, demonstrating grit, perseverance and harnessing the power of resilience. Tickets are $50 for the series of three speakers (available until April 11), or can be purchased separately for $18 at www.jfsc.org.

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Samantha Norberg (she/her) is a registered social worker in Jewish Family Service Calgary's Volunteer Programs. She organizes meaningful opportunities for community engagement that support Jewish Family Service Calgary’s clients’ goals and provides support to clients who access Volunteer Programs.

Samantha is passionate about community empowerment to create better outcomes for community dwelling older adults, and the care of persons living with dementia and their caregivers. In her time outside of JFSC, Samantha enjoys volunteering with older adults experiencing mental illness or abuse, contributing research in the field of Gerontology, and endlessly scrolling through photos of her handsome family dog, Kurt.

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