Lisa Math B.S., CRPS-F , Family Training Coordinator, South Florida Wellness
As a parent or caregiver, our first concerns are to make sure that our loved one is safe, healthy, and happy. We will run in every direction to secure resources, services, and supplies – sometimes at the expense of our own wellness.
What is not recognized is the need for the caregiver to take time to maintain one’s own wellness. There’s a reason that flight attendants explain the oxygen procedure this way: always put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then help others. In other words, you can’t be of help to someone else if you pass out! The same goes for any caregiver.The caregiver’s needs must be managed to be able to effectively help another person.
How does a caregiver manage their own needs while managing others? What supports are effective in keeping the caregiver’s wellness in check? Where does a caregiver go to get the support one needs? These are all important and vital questions that every caregiver needs to ponder. Without the answers, a caregiver runs the risk of encountering a crisis without having a crisis plan in place.
Every caregiver should create a list of questions that need to be answered when the situation is stable, and they are able to contemplate effective answers. All caregivers should have an idea of how one will manage their own wellness in both stable times and crises. It cannot be overstated that support resources and circles of support can be lifesaving!
Here’s a brief list of questions that caregivers should consider, taking care to individualize the list to meet personal needs and concerns:
1. What time have I set aside for myself this week?
2. What activities do I want to do for myself this week?
3. Who can I call if I need to talk?
4. Who can I meet with to take a break?
5. What are the signs I am overextended or overtired?
6. What does it look like when I am in crisis and in need of help?
7. What resources do I have immediately to support myself?
8. Who can I reach out to for services?
9. If I need to take a break, who can I rely on to take over my caregiver duties?
10. What community resources are available to me?
11. Have I created a list for others to help support me?
12. Where will I leave information in my home (in case I need someone to come support me when I’m not able to effectively engage)?
Where to Look for Support
Most caregivers rely on a small circle of friends - and some professionals- to support their journey. But thinking “out of the box” is an effective way to bring more people and resources into one’s circle of support.
Start by reviewing your day. Who are the people you encounter regularly that know you well enough to recognize when “things aren’t right”? Make a list of those people and talk with them to ask if they can be a support resource for you. Think about colleagues at work, at the places you exercise, at the library you frequently visit. Create connections that allow you the space to breathe and get respite from the hard work of caregiving. Are you in school? What about engaging those people you encounter regularly in that environment?
Other support resources can be found on social media or websites. Meet-up websites allow you to input information to narrow your search for people in your community with very similar experiences. Opportunities to volunteer in your community enable you to meet new people and have new outlets.You can research opportunities on the web by inputting search terms like
“volunteer opportunities” or “volunteer match” in your county.
Recognize and React
As a caregiver, the best thing you can do for your loved ones is to recognize when you need support and react before a situation becomes a crisis.Learn what you need, collect your resources, and reach out to your circles of support.
Lisa Math B.S., CRPS-F, is the Family Training Coordinator at South Florida Wellness Network (SFWN). SFWN is a peer-run agency that works with youth and adults in recovery from mental health and/or substance use challenges and the family caregivers who support them. Ms. Math is also a caregiver in her personal life, and has learned to put her oxygen mask on first!