The journey of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease can be meaningful, stressful, rewarding, and painful all at once. When you become the primary caregiver for someone living with Alzheimer’s, you take on a new set of responsibilities—some of which may be completely new to you—on top of the ones you already have. At the same time, you’re faced with the loss and grief that come with your loved one’s loss of memory and independence. You may find yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelmed.
Caregivers are remarkably strong, resilient, and compassionate people. You are also human, with the same needs we all share: food, water, connection, rest, and sleep. This Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we invite you to keep self-care in focus. Three tips that can help:
Recognize your needs. As you’re navigating through the daily demands of caregiving, you may push aside your own needs. It is important for the health of your mind and body to acknowledge and fulfill your needs for connection, alone time, and rest. Over time, deprioritizing your needs can lead to burnout. The irony of the road to burnout is that the further you go, the harder it becomes to spot the roadsigns saying: “It’s time to ask for help.” People often say to “make time for yourself,” but with so much on your plate, how can you actually create the space in your schedule for self-care?
You might consider:
- Asking friends or family to bring meals that you can enjoy together, nourishing both your body and need for connection. You can also use this time to practice mindful eating together.
- Coordinating with a respite care service, or a trusted relative or friend who may be able to offer you a break for a couple of hours on a regular basis, so that you can have time alone to rest and recharge.
- Joining a regular exercise or meditation class, which provide an opportunity to practice self-care in a social setting.
These approaches can help to alleviate burnout and the accompanying feelings of exhaustion and isolation that so many caregivers experience.
Incorporate mind-body practices into your daily routine.
Taking even a few moments each day for yourself can create noticeable benefits. Just a couple minutes of slow, deep breathing can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. If you don’t have the support available to set aside a block of time, try integrating a few two- or three-minute mind-body moments into each day.
You can weave mind-body skills into your daily routine. Some ideas to try include:
The Center for Mind-Body Medicine offers a comprehensive program that facilitates self-care and healing, as well as other resources including mind-body skills groups, a resource library, and webinars. These are great resources to help find ways to care for yourself that work for you.
Remember that “all emotions are innocent.”
Providing care for a family member with Alzheimer’s is is likely to bring up many emotions–including difficult ones. Dealing with your loved one forgetting who you are, becoming agitated, and/or not seeming like themselves anymore is an experience that can be painful. You may feel overwhelmed, angry, hurt, discouraged, frustrated, guilty, and sad. These feelings are normal and they can be tough to move through. If you find yourself “stuck” in a difficult emotion, you can utilize mind-body techniques to move through it. One practice that can help with this is Soft-Belly Breathing, our core breathing meditation. Through slow, deep breathing, the stress response is quieted and it becomes easier to accept and put into perspective your emotions. Regular practice can increase your awareness so that you notice when you need an extra dose of self-care.