There are 67 million family caregivers in the United States alone, and sadly, most are living their lives in crisis and overwhelm. This number is on the rise and the hardcore truth is that as a culture, we aren’t prepared for these numbers. The care of our aging population is falling upon the family, and the sooner we wake up and embrace this, the better off we’ll all be.
The reality is that there are ways to not only survive being a caregiver, but better yet, there are ways to thrive. But you have to know what to do. Sadly, many family caregivers are doing a lot of complaining about their new lot in life instead of figuring out: what to do and what not to do; and making some important changes.
If you are already in the throws of caregiving and you’re feeling like you’re standing in quick sand, then I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things you can do that will reap big results. Help is available and you don’t have to do caregiving alone! In fact, you shouldn’t do caregiving alone. When you said YES to caring for your loved one, you did it from your heart and probably had no idea of the challenges you would meet along the way. There are certain ‘secrets’ you need to learn that will help to set you on a path to Empowerment and a life balance.
Learning the art of resiliency is key, and if you are to thrive in your caregiving role, you need to not only learn, but also practice resiliency. Being resilient does not mean running on adrenaline day in and day out. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Practicing the steps below will set you on your way to finding more balance in your life as a caregiver.
Put Systems and Procedures in Place – This is the ‘Business of Caregiving’ and you have to have systems in place and procedures to help you implement the systems. Just like operating a business, you have operational systems in place. Caregiving is no different. If you have avoided this step, take some time to systematize whatever you can. (You won’t always be able to stick to the plan, but having systems in place will really help you.) Don’t try to do too much at one time or you’ll become overwhelmed. Just tackle one or two things a week and when you have that mastered, do a couple more. (For more, see Cindy’s archived article ‘The Business of Caregiving.’)
Be Informed – Worry and anxiety happen when we don’t have enough information. Get educated and stay informed. Information is available everywhere. Make sure you are getting yours from a credible source.
Be clear about what you can and cannot do – Getting clear about your personal limitations is key. Too many caregivers fail to think about this and they end up in physical and emotional exhaustion.
Manage the guilt – This is huge. You cannot manage caregiving well from a place of guilt. Guilt is a driving force for many caregivers. Getting a handle on it is extremely important for your personal well-being.
Manage the daily tasks – You don’t have to do everything in one day or even one week. Scheduling the daily tasks (just like you do at work) will help you slow down.
Stop trying to be Perfect! – In other words, cut yourself some slack!
Get Help! – Help, like information, is everywhere, but you need to find the right help and more importantly you need to ask for it. Help doesn’t usually show up until you ask.
Take Time Off – Plan your schedule as far in advance as possible and make time for you. This is really not optional. If you avoid this step, you will end up experiencing caregiver burnout.
Maintain a Sense of Humor – There are funny moments in caregiving and it’s okay to laugh about them.
Don’t Stuff Your Feelings! Your feelings live inside you for a reason and you must honor them. If you don’t honor them, but instead stuff them, they will always find a way to come out, and it won’t always be pretty.
Get Rest, Calm Down and Relax. Sleep if You Can – Learning ways to calm your mind while resting your body is key. You might try a quiet session of getting comfortable and listening to soulful music. Allow yourself to drift off.
Celebrate Your Accomplishments – This seems rather simple, but sadly, most caregivers spend little or no time celebrating much of anything.
Be Grateful – If you don’t practice gratitude, try getting a journal and writing down everything (no matter how small) that you are grateful for.
Nurture Your Personal Spirituality – There is more and more evidence that those individuals who have a spiritual practice cope better with life’s challenges.
Bear Witness – Often just listening and lending comfort to your loved one is enough. You don’t have to always entertain.
Focus on Today – This is all we have. Caregivers spend unnecessary time worrying about the future. You can’t control the future, you can only (partially) control today. For today, live in the moment. Embrace the compassionate act of caregiving.