4 Tips to Be a Healthy Caregiver

healthy caregiver

It’s time for a hard truth. It is hard to be a healthy caregiver. It takes a real “eyes on the prize” mentality to keep yourself at the top of the “to-do” list. Or even on it at all.

It is easy to find that list of things to do to stay strong/happy/healthy. In fact, I have written a few of them myself, here at Family Affaires. But actions are harder than lists. What gets in the way? Life.

I am writing this article as I sit in the waiting room while my 94 year old mother is having a cardiac stress test done. The day started very early.

Did I take the time to have breakfast? No. I ate one of those nut-and-fruit bars on the way to pick her up. It was a less-bad choice than not eating at all or stopping for baked goods that are high fat, high calorie and no real nutrition.

Yesterday was a full “mom day” as well. I didn’t make it to the gym. But, the dogs got an extra long walk, and, when we came back, I did about 15 minutes of floor exercises. Not ideal, but something is better than nothing. The “less bad” choice.

It is hard to hit the ideal mark every time. As a caregiver, it can be hard to hit it even most of the time. The trick is to keep making the “less bad” choice until you can make a better one.

Just as there are guidelines for making “best choices”, there are guidelines that can help you make “less bad” choices.

First, know that you are important, all the time and in every situation. In fact, the crazier the crisis is that your loved one is going through, the more important you really are. You need to be grounded, strong, clear-headed. Taking care of you is selfless, as it keeps you at your best for those who rely on you.

Second, identify 1 to 3 behaviors that help to keep you feeling your best. Be clear, simple and specific. Examples: a) Eat vegetables instead of pretzels. b) Take a daily walk. c) Take 5 minutes to sit and breathe.

Third, as your day gets busy and Life takes over, use your goal or goals to help guide choices. Don’t try for perfect. Just aim in the direction of your goal. Examples: a) I started to eat pretzels, but changed half way through to cucumber slices. b) I couldn’t get that 2 mile walk in today, but I walked around the block instead of sitting in the kitchen. It got me out and moving a bit. c) I didn’t have 5 minutes to sit today, so I took long, slow breaths while I was putting in laundry. Instead of thinking of all the things I still had to do, the breathing gave me some peace and clarity.

Practice the art of “good enough”. In an ideal world, you would behave ideally. In caregiving, our worlds are far from ideal. We have to do the best we can in the moment and know it is “good enough”. Did your choice move toward your goal or away from it? If it moved toward your goal, then it was “good enough”.

Fourth, practice forgiveness. Sometimes we can’t come close to making choices that match our goals. A regret can motivate a better choice next time. That is its purpose. Forgive yourself this time and make the less bad choice next time. That is what keeps you healthy.

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About Elissa Lewin

Elissa Lewin is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has maintained a private practice outside of Philadelphia for 25 years. Her own experience as a caregiver led to her founding Nancy’s House, a comprehensive respite program for family caregivers. www.nancy's-house.org

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