“Taking Care of You” – chapter one from “Caregiver Helpbook”

Organizations around the US, including Family Caregiver Alliance in the Bay Area (caregiver.org), teach a course called “Powerful Tools for Caregivers,” developed by an organization in Portland.  You can read general info about the self-care education program for family caregivers at powerfultoolsforcaregivers.org.  The course is designed to help “family caregivers develop a wealth of self-care tools to: reduce personal stress; change negative self talk; communicate more effectively in challenging situations; manage their emotions; and make tough caregiving decisions.”

As part of the course, class participants receive a copy of a book titled “The Caregiver Helpbook.”  The book is available in both English and Spanish for a reasonable cost ($30).  Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan is reading the booklet and will be sharing the highlights, chapter by chapter.

The title of chapter one is “Taking Care of You.”  As the book’s author notes:  “Research studies find high rates of depression and anxiety among caregivers and increased vulnerability to health problems.  They often feel they have no control over events – and that feeling of powerlessness has a significant negative impact on caregivers’ physical and emotional health.”

Chapter one offers suggestions on how you can take care of yourself, as a caregiver.  You’re more likely to be a loving and patient caregiver when you meet some of your own needs.

Here’s Denise’s report on chapter one.



Notes by Denise

The Caregiver Helpbook
Chapter One – Taking Care of You

“When you board an airplane, the flight attendant gives several safety instructions.  One of them is, ‘If oxygen masks drop down, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.’  This is because if you don’t take care of yourself first, you may not be able to help those who need your help.  Its the same thing with caregiving.  When you take care of yourself, everyone benefits.”

A caregiver shares her healthy caregiver perspective:  “To some degree I recognized that caregiving was like a job and my goal was to find the best way to get the job done.  A friend also told me that doing any job well – including the job of caregiving – requires four things:
1. Recognizing you can’t do everything yourself – you work with others.
2. Taking daily breaks.
3. Taking vacations to renew oneself.
4. Being realistic about what you can do.”

You’re more likely to be a loving and patient caregiver when you meet some of your own needs.

Here is the “Powerful Tools for Caregivers” step-by-step guide for setting goals to meet your own needs:

First, write down a few things you would like to be able to do, like exercise, get to church, or read.  (Indicate which you would like to work on first.)

Second, brainstorm all the different things you might do to reach your first goal.
“Its important not to assume that an option is unworkable until you have thoroughly investigated it or given it a try.  Assumptions are major self-care enemies!”  (Indicate two or three options that seem most do-able, and select one to try first.)

Third, turn your option into a plan of action.  That has five steps:

1. Decide what you want to do.

Think about what is realistic and reachable in a week, to avoid frustration.  “An action plan starts with the words, ‘I will…’  If you find yourself saying, ‘I’ll try to…,’ or ‘I have to…,’ it probably isn’t something you truly want to do.”

2. Make your plan behavior-specific.

“Taking better care of myself” is not a specific behavior.  Making an appointment for a physical, or walking three times a week, is.

3. Think it through.

Answer these four questions:
– What are you going to do?       I will take a walk.
– How much will you do?             Will you walk two blocks or for 20 minutes?
– When will you do this?              What time of day can you walk?
– How often will you do this?      Three times a week? (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)

A common mistake is to be overly optimistic.  Its better to plan to do something once or twice a week and exceed your plan than to add pressure, disappointment, and stress.  Remember, this is supposed to help you take care of yourself, so plan for success!

4. Determine your confidence level.

With your plan in mind, on a scale of 0-10 (with 0 being not at all confident, and 10 being totally confident), how confident are you that you can get in that afternoon 20 minute walk three times this week?  If your answer is 7 or higher, your plan is probably realistic and achievable.  If not, something probably needs adjusting.

5. Write down your action plan.

Writing it down helps us to remember and solidifies the agreement we’ve made with ourselves.  “Keep track of how you’re doing.  Write down problems encountered.  Check off activities as you accomplish them.  If you make an adjustment in your plan, make a note of what you did.”

At the end of the week review how things went.  “Are you nearer your overall goal?  How do you feel about what you did?  What obstacles or problems, if any, did you encounter?”  This is a good time to work out the kinks.

Problem Solving Your Action Plan:
– Clearly identify the problem.
– List ideas to solve the problem.
– Select one to try
– Assess the results.  Every week reassess: Identify any problems, brainstorm solutions, try one solution, and keep tweaking the plan until you have a new routine and are well on your way to a happier, healthier you.
– Accept that the problem may not be solvable now. Not all goals are achievable at this time.  Make a plan for the next goal on your list and try implementing that one.

Don’t forget to reward yourself!  Putting a more pleasant routine in place can be its own reward, but, “its important to find healthy pleasures that add enjoyment.  They don’t have to be fancy, expensive or take a lot of time.”  Catch a movie, your favorite TV show or sports.

The end of chapter one has a sample action plan and a blank worksheet for personal use.  It clearly states each step with space to fill in your goal, action plan, confidence level, and a check list for each day of the week with a comment section to keep track of your activity, obstacles, and adjustments.

– Denise