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A record 53 million people in the United States are care providers for an older family member. About 17 percent of the US population is a family caregiver, and most are losing sleep, worrying, losing income, struggling to balance caregiving tasks with their workload and other family responsibilities. These caregivers are often experiencing ill health of their own and putting their well being at a lesser priority to their family loved one. The coronavirus pandemic further complicates matters as an October 2020 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reveals that family caregivers provide 36 percent more care than one year ago due to the virus. Many family caregivers are exhausted, keeping their older loved ones safe and socially connected, often while working from home and supervising children during home school days. To be good to others, you must first be good to yourself. Making self-care a top priority allows you to be a more effective caregiver to your loved one. Here are ten strategies to implement today to ease family caregiver burnout.
Relentlessly add some “me time” into your schedule. There is time to enjoy life, visit (even if virtually) friends, read an enjoyable book, do some artwork, practice meditation, or just lay down and relax. Whatever it is that brings you joy and peace of mind (and it can be changeable!), put it in your schedule routinely.
Prioritize your healthcare. You cannot be an effective caregiver if you are unwell. It is a trap to spend all of your time managing your loved family member’s doctor appointments and medication while forgoing yours. When was your last checkup? Are you experiencing new symptoms under the stress of caregiving that you are not sharing with your doctor? Make those appointments for your well being today.
Eat a healthy diet and get enough exercise. Neglecting the very basics of a healthy lifestyle encourages health problems to present themselves in you. A healthy diet coupled with exercise will bring balance to your well-being, and from there, all things become possible. Ditch the fast food, drop the daily glass of alcohol, and practice a healthier lifestyle.
Connect with other caregivers. It is so helpful to address your caregiving frustrations out loud to others in a similar situation. You might find they experience similar feelings to your own. It is not a failure on a caregiver’s part to have these feelings. You are human and, as such, have frailties. Never try to be invincible. If you feel you need more help than this, seek professional counseling. A counselor can help you sort through the complexity of your situation and feelings, providing tools to navigate family caregiving’s complex emotions. Select a therapist who specializes in helping those who are caregivers and the associated dynamics.
Learn more about your loved one’s health condition to better prepare for what lies ahead. You can’t know the future, but a medical prognosis and additional research can go a long way to addressing uncertainty that increases stress levels. Understanding possible future scenarios will let you plan and reduce the number of surprises that can catch you off guard.
Learn to set boundaries and don’t let old family dynamics dominate today. As your aging loved one requires more care, your downtime can become non-existent. Stay true to your schedule and your needs. If your loved one requires more help, it is time to call in other family members for financial or hands-on assistance or hire a service to provide additional care. Also, do not fall into child mode and allow your parent to push your buttons as they may have in earlier years. Stay in the present and focus on the task at hand. If you find it hard to separate then and now behaviors with your parent, seek support groups or find a counselor to learn ways to combat falling into old patterns.
Get help and get it sooner than later. It is not your destiny to go through this alone. Talk to your family or your doctor to strategize about ways to reduce your workload and stress. Bring in professional care, even if just a couple of times a week for some relief. Ask for help and then accept it! Your family members may be willing to help financially and spend time remotely with your loved one while you take a well-deserved break. When someone steps in to help, do not hover or micro-manage the situation. Walk away and clear your head. The world will spin without you being the family caregiver for a few hours or even a few days. Do not delay. Take good care of yourself to be your best for others.
Make sure you have a plan. If something should happen to your health, have you put into writing who should make decisions for you, who should manage your affairs, and what your wishes are regarding your care? If not, the time couldn’t be better.