Caregivers constantly think about caring for others — but few people think about caring for caregivers. Yet caring for caregivers is absolutely critical, as it can help them manage the potential problems that can be caused by the chronic mental and physical stress of caregiving. In fact, there are multiple reasons why it’s important to care for caregivers.
First of all, caring for caregivers reminds them that their needs are important and deserve to be considered. The type of person who’s drawn to caregiving usually puts other people’s needs first and may also have trouble believing that their own wants and needs are just as important as those of others. Even if they are aware of their needs, caregivers may feel guilty about asking for help because their life is dedicated to taking care of someone else. Caring for caregivers reminds them that they’re not robots who can just keep giving and giving without rest or respite. Sometimes it takes someone else saying that their needs matter in order to make caregivers believe it.
Caring for caregivers also helps keep them healthy both physically and mentally. Caregiving can be tough on the body in many ways, from having to constantly lift and move a heavy patient to not having enough time for regular exercise. Caregivers often spend lots of hours walking around, so their feet often hurt, even if they wear comfortable nursing shoes. It can also be tough mentally, as caregivers work with patients or loved ones who are struggling with serious conditions. Caregivers may also turn to unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol to cope with stress. Caring for caregivers can help keep them mentally and physically healthy, making them feel less isolated.
Sometimes caregivers know what self-care they want or need, but they simply don’t have time to pursue it because their lives are consumed by taking care of others. Caring for a caregiver may include temporarily fulfilling their role or picking up some extra household chores so that they have the time and energy to engage in self-care. This self-care might be as simple as a long soak in the tub. But, consider other helpful activities like scheduling doctors’ appointments the caregiver has been delaying (which is a surprisingly common phenomenon).
Caregivers who are taking care of a chronically ill relative or patient are at risk for burnout and compassion fatigue. These conditions occur when the physical and emotional stress of caregiving wears them down over time. Burnout leads to feelings of detachment, numbness, irritability and exhaustion, as well as related physical ailments. Taking care of caregivers can delay or prevent burnout and compassion fatigue from occurring.
Now that you understand the importance of taking care of caregivers, you’re probably wondering how you can do just that. Here’s what you can do for the caregiver in your life, whether they’re a relative caring for a loved one or a professional in scrubs.
- Show your appreciation for them. Many caregivers feel like their hard work and sacrifices are taken for granted. Simply saying “thank you” can go a long way towards making them feel appreciated, and a hand-written card is also a fantastic way to show your gratitude.
- Ask how they’re doing. Caregivers worry so much about how other people are feeling that it really goes a long way if you periodically check in with them to see how they’re doing. Be sincere when you ask the question and listen carefully to their response. If they’re not doing well, ask them what they need and how you can help.
- Take on some of their chores. Many caregivers, whether formal or informal, often end up performing many household chores like cooking and cleaning. These household tasks further eat into their time and can contribute to chronic stress. Offer to take on some extra duties around the house to help ease the burden.
- Give them a day off. One of the best gifts you can give a caregiver is a day to themselves. If your caregiver occupies more of an informal role, offer to coordinate a rotating schedule where different relatives can contribute. This will give the primary caregiver time to get out of the house and take care of themselves.
- Help them with healthcare. Many caregivers put off their own healthcare, both because they don’t have time and because it further stresses them out. If appropriate, offer to help the caregivers in your life take care of the more stressful aspects of their healthcare. You can assist with finding in-network providers or drive them to appointments if they don’t have a reliable form of transportation.
- Put together a self-care basket. Give your caregiver some gifts that you know will cheer them up: a gift card for a massage, an at-home pedicure set, a book by their favorite author, a mug with their favorite coffee, a cute (and easy to care for) houseplant — whatever will put a smile on their face. A hand-written thank you card is the perfect finishing touch.
- Don’t let them isolate. Over time, many caregivers end up withdrawing from social life as caregiving takes over. They begin to decline invitations because they’re too tired to go out or feel guilty for leaving their loved one at home. Make a concentrated effort to reach out to them and continue to invite them to events. If they keep saying no, offer to visit them or schedule a video hangout — even a phone call is better than nothing!
Whether they’re paid for their work or not, the caregiver in your life deserves just as much gratitude and help as you would give to anyone else. Don’t take them for granted. Instead, care for your caregiver using the tips on this list.