Your loved one is sick and you’re there for them every step of the way. This means helping with doctors, making sure the patient eats well and assisting with whatever is needed. But at the same time, don’t forget that you need to take care of yourself, too.
Caregivers focus their concern on the person who needs it most. Often you spend hours sitting bedside, eating vending machine food and barely sleeping on a reclining chair with a thin blanket. In only a few days, a caregiver can be run down, exhausted, dehydrated and vulnerable to wearing out or even getting ill.
One study shows caregivers are more at risk for getting sick themselves from the stress and extra time commitments. Another study reports up to 70% of caregivers have sleep problems. Whether you are visiting a loved one for a temporary period of time or are a long-term caregiver for a loved one, here are some quick and simple ways to tend to yourself that may help you stay healthy and able to offer your support.
Eat as well as you can
Emergencies often mean that we find ourselves scrambling for anything to eat long after we’ve gotten hungry and in just a few minutes while our loved one is being treated or sleeping. Vending machine meals and coffee fuel-ups should be a temporary solution. If it looks like you will be at the hospital more than a day or two, be mindful that how you eat will help you stay awake, alert and available.
Check out the cafeteria or bring in food from home that is healthy. Hospital cafeterias get a bad rap, but many have improved in recent years. You can usually find healthy options, even a salad bar. It’s important to keep your energy levels high so you can help your loved one.
Carry a reusable water bottle (and maybe even a back-up) with you and sip throughout the day. Keep dehydrating drinks, like coffee, to a minimum. If your time to slip away to eat a meal is limited or comes in between long stretches, water will help. If friends or family ask how they can support you during this time, request that they bring a gallon of water or case of bottled water that you can keep in your car for fill-ups.
Move your body
“Get up and walk around,” says Gene Soboleski, a nurse and fitness blogger. “Getting away from your loved one’s room, even for 15 minutes, can be beneficial. Stairwells provide a resource for getting your heart and breathing rates up.”
You might be surprised how much clearer or calmer you feel by taking small breaks to leave a hospital room or treatment center throughout the day. But if you feel that you must stay put, do some simple stretches every hour. These stretches are a good place to start, and can even be done seated.
Boost your immunity
Immunity boosting foods may help your body fight off any colds that can come with being run down, and the ritual of feeding yourself well will be soothing. Make a smoothie with yogurt, stir garlic into chicken soup, replace a latte with green tea, up your leafy greens during one meal a day, carry an apple or two in your bag for a crunchy snack that isn’t chips. Ask your own doctor if there are supplements which might help you avoid getting ill, particularly while you give care to someone else.
Ease your mind
Seek out a spot where the beeps of machines and chatter of nurses is silenced so you can be still, prayerful or meditative for a few minutes at a time. Keep an eye out while you are on a walk for a corner or room where visitors can settle in, or ask a nurse or chaplain to give you directions.
“A great spot in our facility for meditation or just silence is our underused chapel space,” Soboleski continues. “The door is almost always open and it’s very quiet in there.”
If you need to leave the facility completely, chances are that there is a coffee shop close by. Or sit in your car, where you can turn on soothing music or have some space for a while.
If music or distraction feels comforting, bring along earbuds and tune into an internet radio station set to “soothing sounds” or download podcasts you can pop on during down time.
Use your brain (and body) power
To keep your brain active, Soboleski recommends games. “If the facility is large enough, they might have volunteers to bring puzzles, books, etc. Ask at the nurses’ station how to contact the volunteers.”
Chloe Jeffreys, a nurse who specializes in labor and delivery, suggests exercise, and not just for the body.
“The hospital’s physical rehabilitation department often has fitness equipment like cycling machines, treadmills, yoga mats, and fitness balls that you can use if no one else is using them. Just ask,” she advises.
“Get outside,” Jeffreys urges. “The unrelenting fluorescent lighting affects one’s sense of well-being. Just getting outside and walking the perimeter of the hospital will provide you with some much-needed sunshine and air.”
Jeffreys also suggested looking for fitness classes offered by the hospital for employees and visitors. You might be able to sneak into a yoga class. Also, a cardiac care center might have treadmills and other pieces of fitness equipment you can use with permission.
To summarize, eat well by choosing wisely at the cafeteria or bringing food from home. Look for exercise via walking or asking to use on-site fitness equipment. And take some quiet moments for yourself by ducking outside for a quick walk or using the chapel.
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