We are all caregivers in our own way, but there are some people who definitely go above and beyond. These often-unsung heroes volunteer their time to provide emotional, nursing, social, housekeeping and sometimes even financial support to family members or friends who can no longer look after themselves.
And they do it for free.
Of course, there are also paid caregivers who provide nursing and other support to people who require long-term or hospice care. National Caregivers Day, celebrated on 18th February in the United States and the United Kingdom, and on 6th April in Canada, is meant to honour these important health care heroes.
Whether paid or unpaid, caregivers contribute so much to the mental and physical wellbeing of people we love. It’s important to recognise their contributions in a meaningful way every day, but especially on National Caregivers Day.
How to honour caregivers
- Say thank you. If you wash your floors, vacuum and tidy up every day when no one’s home, it may appear as though your house is just always magically clean to others who live with you. It can be easy to forget what people are doing when you’re not physically there to witness it, so make a point of thanking the person who is doing all the invisible caregiving work that keeps your loved one safe and well. Send a card, give them a call, send flowers or a gift certificate for spa services—anything to let them know how grateful you are for the tireless work they do.
- Ease their burden. There’s usually a practical reason why caregiving falls to one member of the family, but it doesn’t mean that what they’re doing—on top of managing their family and other responsibilities—is simple. Commit to doing a little bit more if you can. And if that’s not possible, make their job easier by pitching in to help buy necessary supplies, calling the family member they’re caring for more often to provide additional social support, or even sending a restaurant gift card to the caregiver once a month so they can enjoy a meal on you after a busy day.
- Recognise what they’re doing. Comment on how clean your parent’s house was the last time you visited, or how great Dad’s home haircut was, or how happy Aunt Verna is to have so much love and support. Showing that you see and appreciate what they’re doing can help make sure caregivers don’t feel like they’re being taken for granted.
Self-care tips for the caregiver
If you’re a family caregiver, self-care is critical. You’re shouldering an extra physical and mental burden, and that can be exhausting on top of your own work and family responsibilities. Make sure to take very good care of yourself.
- Learn stress reduction techniques. Pray, meditate, do yoga—whatever it takes to decompress and feel less overwhelmed.
- Get outside. Being in nature, even for just a few minutes a day, can be incredibly healing. Try to get outside as often as you can to soak in the fresh air and sunshine.
- Talk it out. Find an online community like the one Caregiver Action Network hosts where you can chat with other caregivers. Those who know exactly what you’re going through can offer helpful suggestions, or just a shoulder to lean on when you need it most.
- Ask for help. If you find you simply can’t continue doing everything by yourself, ask for help. Other family members might not be able to physically be there, but perhaps they can pitch in and pay for a few days of professional home care each month to give you a much-needed break.
- Don’t neglect your own needs. Caring for a loved one is a noble thing, but it should never come at the cost of your own physical or mental health. Keep your own medical appointments. Talk to a therapist if you’re struggling. Eat a healthy diet. Get regular exercise. Pay attention to your sleep hygiene to make sure you’re able to get enough sleep. Always look after yourself too.
Believe it or not, some family caregivers spend more than 20 hours a week looking after loved ones—that’s the equivalent of a part-time job.2 Make sure to recognise and thank the caregivers in your life as often as you can this year, but especially on 18 February.