October 20, 2021
It started out as a few hours a week. An afternoon here. An evening there. A Saturday or two. You handled whatever arose. No big deal. You love them and it was manageable. It happened so slowly that you did not even realize that you became a caregiver. You were helping out. Funny how when we are in the big middle of stuff that we do not realize how long it has been nor do we have any idea how we got “here.”
“Here.” Hmmm, where is your “here?” Think about it for a few minutes. How long ago did it start? What did your life look like then? What does your life look like now? How many different things are you juggling? Partner, spouse, kids, work, career, friends, community activities, church functions, or even your own health care needs? How many things and people have you neglected?
Are you a caregiver that feels you must always be on call? Are you a person that feels you must always be reachable or be close, just-in-case? It isn’t just caregivers that feel that way. I have found that if you are or feel you are responsible for someone or something you think that you “need” to be available and ready at all times. You must be Superwoman. You must be Superman.
When you feel that way and act that way you have no freedom. You have no down time. You have no “me time.” You probably don’t have much family time either. It sucks. You want to rest, relax and recharge. You want to turn off your brain and just chill. You don’t want to be tied to your cellphone. You want to go out to eat with your family. You want to enjoy sporting events, plays and church. You want to enjoy those around you. But, how can you do all of that? How can you do that and be “on call?”
You can handle most anything, for a while. It is the continued drain on your time and energy that will wear you out. Have you figured out how to rest, relax and recharge without taking a break, yet?
You cannot rest, relax and recharge without taking a break. A mental break and a physical break are required. You will feel guilty. Accept that you will feel guilty. Don’t ask for permission from the person you are caring for. Take a break BEFORE you are so worn out that it takes you a week to recover. Even four to six hours once or twice a week is better than nothing. It would be best if you could take one or two days off every week.
Can other family members help? They probably will if you tell them a day and time. Do not leave it up to them to decide a day and time because they won’t. It is not mean or ugly to have a day or time picked out. If they truly cannot, go on to the next person. Keep going. For some, it may be easier to have a set time or day every week. You may have to hire outside help. I get it, it isn’t cheap. What is your physical and mental health worth? You can always check-in on the care giver/companion.
If your loved one has a dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease you may have to be subtle with adding in-home help. You may need to use other words and phrases. Do not use “Sitter.” You may not be able to use the word “caregiver.” You may have to use “your helper around the house, or help with meal prep, even help with light housekeeping.”
Other emotions may pop up too, so don’t be surprised when shame or fear show up. If you are feeling resentment, anger or burnout you NEED a break NOW. When your “give a damn doesn’t give a damn anymore,” it is past time for time away. Caregiver fatigue and burnout are very real and they can lead to your own set of illnesses. I want you to take care of yourself. Breaks and time away help you to be an even better caregiver.
However, if you notice these signs of caregiver burnout, it’s time to take your health seriously and give yourself a well-deserved break:
- Feeling “trapped” or hopeless
- Losing patience or compassion for your loved one
- Overreacting to small accidents
- Resenting or neglecting your loved one
- Withdrawing from your personal hobbies and friendships
- Oversleeping or not sleeping enough
- Overeating, not eating enough, or eating a lot of high-sugar foods
- Having health problems
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Having thoughts of suicide
- You are impatient with your care receiver
- You are making mistakes (medications, appointments, etc.)
- You feel lonely
- You have snapped at your care receiver
- You feel exhausted most of the time
- You are bored
- You are experiencing memory problems
- You are experiencing signs and symptoms of depression
- Your own relationships are declining
Design a plan that works for you and your family. What are the needs and who can fulfill them? Take some time to think.
What do you need? Be specific. Three hours off twice a week? 24 hours completely away? A regular day or night off to be with your spouse? A night off to be with your friends?
What does your loved one need? Meals prepared? Laundry? Shopping? Personal care? Haircut? Daily walks? Help with medications? Companionship? Light housekeeping? Taken to doctor appointments? Yardwork?
Who can pitch-in? Tell everyone what is needed. Have a sign-up sheet. Have a day in mind, but try to be flexible, Maye they can’t help on Wednesday, but they can help on Thursday.
Sometimes, you may have to have a family meeting or as I like to call them. “A come to Jesus meeting.” If you find some family members unwilling or unable to help…help them write a check for respite care or handle some of your things at your house that needs to be taken care of while you are away from your own home.
Look online for Respite care in your area.
Look at in-home care, non-medical for companion care.
Check out your local area’s Office on Aging.
Search for Adult daycare facilities in your area.
What are the benefits for taking a break from caregiving?
It can prevent you from having an emotional breakdown.
It provides you time to take care of your own personal business.
Having other people ready to take over should you become ill or have to be away.
It may provide you with a different perspective.
You are better able to make necessary decisions when you are clearer headed.
You will decrease your stress, which will improve your own health.
You get to re-engage with your own spouse, partner, children or friends.
You will be a better caregiver and manager for your loved one.
You catch up on rest.