September is National Healthy Aging Month, a time Hospice of South Texas encourages seniors to consider taking steps to ensure a healthier tomorrow. Though most of the national conversation around Healthy Aging Month focuses on physical and mental health in general, we want to also turn our focus to family caregivers and how to gain caregiver life balance.

Approximately 39.8 million caregivers provide care to adults (aged 18+) with a disability or illness. While most caregivers are willing to take on this responsibility because of the commitment they have for their loved one, caregiving is not easy. Caregivers are often so focused on the needs of their loved one, they forgo selfcare. The stress of caregiving coupled with the degree to which it can change your life, can cause very real psychological and physical stress. Left unchecked, the demands of caregiving can lead to health issues.

It is vital as a caregiver to allow yourself to also consider your needs. Attaining caregiver life balance may seem like an impossible goal, but this precious time you have with your loved one will be richer if you are healthy and whole. You can’t be an effective caregiver if you are running on empty. Caregiver life balance is important. So how do you strike life balance while caregiving?

Here are some helpful tips from Hospice of South Texas’ team of experts to gain caregiver life balance.

  • Connect with Others. Caregiving can feel so isolating. Often we have less time to participate in social activities and find ourselves turning down invitations from friends. But relationships are vital to quality of life. Taking time with friends and family will give you respite, lighten your mood and help preserve your mental health. Take time to be with friends; they will help relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, and prevent you from feeling loneliness and isolation.
  • Consider Joining a Support Group. When we connect with others who understand our journey we feel less alone. Support groups can help you feel heard, understood and offer a safe place to share difficult feelings. They also provide insights, tips and inspiration. There are numerous support groups on Facebook, you can also reach out to our team at Hospice of South Texas for suggestions.
  • Accept Help. There are only so many hours in the day, and you are just one person. Accepting help does not mean you are abandoning your loved one, it means you are ensuring you can continue to have the energy and resources to care for them. Remember those friends that keep asking how they can help? They mean they really want to help. So let them help. Let them take something off your ‘To Do’ list.
  • Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. When you are beginning to feel overwhelmed, train yourself to practice deep, conscious breathing. Here’s how you do it:  inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to fill with air, gently expanding out. Then exhale by relaxing and releasing all of the air through your nose. During stressful moments, conscious breathing allows you to shift and release negative energy instead of storing it in your body.
  • Reconnect with Nature. Significant research has shown the healing power of nature. Being in nature reduces stress and increases feelings of harmony and peace. Take time every day to get out in nature. Sit on your patio, take a walk, play toss with the dog, look at the night sky. Even just a few minutes outside can help you recenter.
  • Take Time for Your Bliss. Your mental health and your physical health depends on you taking time for what brings you joy. Carve out time every day to spend time recapturing your bliss. It may be reading, woodworking, painting, or simply enjoying a cup of tea on the back deck. Realize that allowing yourself to capture these moments will be what makes you a better caregiver. Our bliss is what helps us reenergize. You can’t care for your loved one if you’re running on empty.
  • Acknowledge You Are Human. You’re going to feel stressed, angry, overwhelmed, inadequate, and resentful. Those feelings are legitimate, real and normal. You’re spread thin, balancing more than possible and your loved one’s disease has also changed your life. It’s okay to feel how you feel. It’s expected and it’s human.
  • Acknowledge Your Impact. You are doing something worthwhile and of great value. Caring for your loved one is a significant gift. It’s impact on their life is without bounds. Appreciate your own courage and strength.

You have to keep yourself healthy in order to support the one you love. Focusing on how to gain caregiver life balance is important to your well being. Being healthy, both physically and mentally, gives you what you need to do this important job to the best of your ability – a great lesson to remember during Healthy Aging Month and every month of the year.