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Take Care of Yourself, Caregivers!

Caregivers, don't forget to take care of yourself.

I remember the day I got my first gray hair. It was a Wednesday in June 2005 and the doctor had just told us my mom had multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Of course, the first thing my mom did after hearing this news was to look over at me and ask, “Honey, are you alright?” It was typical of Mom: always selfless, always thinking of others first.

The next six years were tough on all of us. For my mother, there was the burden of physical pain and endurance through chemo, kidney failure, a heart attack, steroids (“I could strip all the wallpaper right now,” she’d say with her chemically induced energy). For the rest of the family, there was an emotional toll. My dad was thrust into a caregiver role (uncharted territory for him), and I sadly discovered my parents’ mortality. They stumbled. They cried. The clock continued to turn, however, and those years also brought plenty of happy stress as well: My fiancé and I planned a wedding, got married, bought a house, had a baby, changed careers.

It was a lot to take, but during that time I developed two rules, which still hold true today: Know when to take care of yourself, and know when to say no. Things that relieved my stress took priority: wine with my girlfriends, reading a good book, watching a favorite TV show, writing on my blog, getting a massage, or taking my kid to the park. I also scratched things off the to-do list—I declined that extra invite, sidelined overstepping relatives, and skipped after-hours work events—so I could breathe and focus on what’s really important in life.

It should be no surprise I learned these life lessons from my mom, who was the epitome of grace. She knew how to say no, how to find inner calm in the midst of turmoil. She taught me that nothing is better for stress than a good cry and – equally important — that it’s worth the big bucks to cover up that gray.

How Do You Take Care of Yourself?

As a caregiver, how do you keep your stress low? Share activities, books or tips that help you each day through caregiving.

About the Author:

Amanda Fretheim Gates is a writer and editor living in Minneapolis.

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