Caring for the Caregiver

Caregivers: Be Mindful of Your Own Self-Care

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

When flight attendants go over safety tips, they tell everyone to secure their own oxygen mask first, then assist others.

If you care for a loved one – spouse, elderly parent or relative, neighbor or friend  – you may feel your loved one wouldn’t “make it” without you. But your well-being should come first. Why? Because you can’t care for someone else if you aren’t healthy. Just like you can’t help someone with their oxygen mask if you can’t breathe.

“Caregivers can become so run down, they damage their own health while caring for their loved one,” explains Jane Felczak, R.N., and a caregiving expert at Henry Ford Health System. “Physical, mental and emotional stress take their toll, and in the worst cases, the caregiver becomes sick or disabled and can no longer take care of their loved one.”

More and more, the healthcare industry recognizes the importance of caregivers, who make sure patients take their medications, go to doctor’s appointments and follow care plans. Caregivers are often the reason patients stay out of hospitals and nursing homes.

It’s a burden that can weigh heavily on any caregiver.

“Caregivers can work on developing ‘resilience’ to maintain their own high-quality life,” says Felczak. “It’s a combination of protecting your needs, asking for help from others, and letting certain things go. Women especially have a hard time putting themselves first or releasing duties to someone else.” In the United States, 60 percent of caregivers are women.

Felczak offers these tips:

  • Hire help. Housecleaning, yard work, dog walking, and personal care can all be hired. “Even if finances are tight, see what you can afford and take that job off your plate,” advises Felczak.
  • Take 10. “Every day, sit and do nothing for 10 minutes. Find a quiet place or in good weather, sit outside,” says Felczak. “Research shows that calming your body and mind for even a short period can decrease stress and improve your happiness. You’ll notice your surroundings, the here and now, and your mind will clear itself.”
  • Do less. Figure out what you can cut out – and be willing to let it go. For example, if you always throw a big birthday party for family members, downsize to cake and ice cream on paper plates. “Shift the focus to being together, not the production.”
  • Make a list. “By making a list of jobs, when someone offers to help, you can give them a specific task and take it off your list.”
  • Let go. When you give someone a job, let them handle it.
  • Make “you” time. “Caregivers often do little for themselves,” says Felczak. “Give yourself permission to have lunch with friends, enjoy a date night or read a book.”
  • Get away. Completely away. It will refresh and renew you. You will need to arrange respite care or shift your duties to another family member or friend. Accept that no one will do the job quite like you.
  • Forgive yourself. Sometimes things will go wrong. Forgive yourself and move on.

Felczak also advises caregivers to tap in to local resources who can provide services or help you connect with the right organizations, support groups, providers, etc.

If you’re a caregiver, learn more about the Henry Ford C.A.R.E. program (Caregiver Assistance Resources and Education) online, or by calling (313) 874-4838 or emailing CaregiverResources@hfhs.org.

Join our Facebook Group and watch a Facebook Live interview with Jane Felczak on Thursday, May 17 at 11 a.m. To join, go to Facebook Groups and search for Henry Ford Health System Family Caregivers. Or, email CaregiverResources@hfhs.org and we’ll add you to the group.

Jane Felczak, MSN, R.N., CPPS, manages patient safety and clinical quality projects at Henry Ford Health System and works with the Henry Ford C.A.R.E. Program for caregivers.

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