Make this commitment to yourself: Your “me” time is essential and non-negotiable. Organize your duties as a caregiver and make time to take care of your own needs. Schedule your “me” time. Go to Office Depot, Office Max or Staples and buy a weekly or monthly pocket calendar (I prefer the weekly version) or download a calendar app for your smart phone.
Write down all of your loved one’s appointments and essential caregiving activities, e.g., meals, bathing, etc. Next, add your own appointments and other absolutely essential family obligations. Then, make appointments with yourself.
Set aside specific times and days of the week for your “me” time during which you do nothing for anyone else. Try to find at least an hour every day just for you. (You don’t have to do it all at once; break it down into convenient 10 minute intervals if that works for you.) But, whatever you choose to do with your “me” time, make it relaxing and restorative.
- Read a book, a magazine or the newspaper
- Go for a long leisurely walk with a friend
- Grab a cup of coffee, sit on the porch and do nothing
- Listen to your favorite music
- If the person you’re caring for takes a nap, try and do the same
- Go on a Saturday night date with your spouse
- Work on a crossword puzzle
- Talk to other caregivers
- Go shopping — just for you
- Play with your pet
- Join an online support group
- Pursue your hobbies
- Take an evening off and go to a school event with your children
- Call a friend to chat
- Take a vacation with your family
- Watch a movie
- Make a lunch date with a friend
- Soak in the tub
- Invite a friend over for coffee
- Above all, don’t feel guilty about taking time off for yourself
If the person you are caring for needs attention 24 hours a day, get help so that you can take your “me” time without worrying about your loved one. Get Help. Asking for help is hard for a lot of complicated reasons. Sometimes, as caretakers, we don’t feel entitled to ask for help, or are embarrassed because “it would look like we can’t handle the job.” Especially if you feel that you’re “on duty” 24 hours a day, see if a trusted friend or family member can share in the care duties. Or, consider using respite care services from a home health agency or adult day services. Seek out neighborhood help to help with yard/outdoor maintenance or see if a local boys and girls club is offering volunteer services that may be useful. Often, people are more than willing to help and just need to be told how. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help. But, be specific about what you need.
Respite Care — Temporary care provided by someone else while their usual caregivers take an occasional break from their caregiving responsibilities. Respite care can be provided at home, in the community (e.g., adult day centers or special respite programs). Or, if you would like to go on a longer vacation with your family, many nursing home and assisted living residences offer overnight 24-hour-a-day respite services.
- Your sister(s) and brother(s), aunt(s) and uncle(s)
- Your in-laws
- Your adult children, nieces and nephews
- Friends or neighbors
- Members of your loved one’s church or synagogue
- Your hospital’s support groups
- Local volunteer groups
- Senior citizens centers
- Your employer’s employee assistance program
- Local Geriatric Care Managers
- The National Respite Locator Service
- Eldercare Locator
- National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
Be or Get Healthy:
- Don’t smoke or quit smoking — NOW
- Follow a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet. (Get your vitamins A, C, D and E through fruits and vegetables, not pills. Don’t eat sugary or high carb foods, or drink energy drinks, to increase your energy.)
- Sleep at least 7 hours a night
- Have a low alcohol intake
- Maintain a low body weight
- Exercise regularly for 30 minutes a day, every day. Or, take exercise breaks throughout the day — three 10-minute mini-workouts instead of 30 minutes all at once. You will:
- Increase your energy level so you can keep up with your daily caregiving activities
- Reduce feelings of depression and stress, while improving your mood and overall well-being
- Maintain and improve your physical strength and fitness
- Manage and prevent chronic diseases and conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
- Improve cognitive function, like your ability to shift quickly between tasks and plan activities.
Finally, read the 2-page How Should I Care for Myself, as a Caregiver from the American Heart Association. It’s full of great ideas.