Caregiving often means a significant shift in the relationship with the person for whom care is being provided. That means big adjustments. In addition to the time and physical demands required, you must also learn to cope with changes to virtually every facet of your daily life. To say caregiving can be stressful is an understatement. But it can also be rewarding with the right approach and support. Try these tips for less stress and more reward with caregiving.
1. Keep growing
Protect your sense of self by actively seeking out opportunities to learn and do new things or old hobbies. Guilt and/or demands on your time may make it seem that finally going back to school or training for that 5k is impossible – it isn’t. Prioritize your time and ask for help. Go as slowly as you need to. Making (and honoring) this commitment to yourself can be restorative. You will bring more emotional energy and patience to caregiving when you also take time to care for yourself.
2. Live by your own expectations
Most everyone will have an opinion about what your caregiving should look like. You may also compare yourself to other caregivers you know. Remember that every person and situation is different. One way is not necessarily better than another or an indication of how much you love the person needing care. As the song says, you can go your own way.
3. Take care of your health
Especially if you are caring for someone that has many appointments you may miss tests and exams you need. Visit the dentist and doctor regularly. Sit down for balanced meals and aim for 7 to 8 hours sleep (in a row) daily. You won’t be helping anyone if your health declines.
4. Join a support group
Look for online or in person groups of people that give you the space and support to be honest. You will have good days and bad days, and it is important to be able to say that to someone out loud without fear of judgement.
5. Be curious
Your relationship has likely undergone some significant changes. Be open to new ways of enjoying time together.
6. Practice mindfulness
Noticing what is happening in the moment provides more chances to appreciate the small daily joys we usually overlook or take for granted. Mindfulness can help you pay attention to how much you enjoy a nice breeze, cup of coffee or your loved one’s smile. Slow down and breathe deeply throughout the day.
7. Learn about resources
Use supportive services such as home health aides, respite care and day programs. One way to manage the stress of caregiving is to surrender your superhero cape. You will need help and must give yourself permission to ask for and accept it.
8. Understand your options
There are so many types of products to help make your job a little easier. Take time to research options that could work best for your loved one. For example, if they are struggling with incontinence they have the option of using diapers, internal or external catheters, pads or urinals. Diapers have to be changed up to five times a day and are not covered by insurance costing up to $300 per month, where some of the other solutions can be changed daily and covered up to 100% by insurance. Each option has pros and cons so take the time to figure out what might work best for your situation.
Caregiving can be both stressful and rewarding – it need not be 100% stressful. Remember to recognize and respond to your own needs, ask for help and find new ways to connect with the person for whom you are providing care. You’ve got this.