New Year, New You: Rest, Recharge, Repeat

Caregiving and Burnout - The Struggle Is Real 

Can you relate?

There are an estimated 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S. that provide unpaid care to an adult or child within the last 12 months. As it was in my case, an estimated 15.7 million family caregivers care for someone with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia at home.

Like most caregivers, you're likely spending your days on the following tasks: Shopping, food preparation, housekeeping, laundry, transportation, giving medication, feeding, dressing, grooming, walking, bathing, assistance toileting, researching care services or information on disease, coordinating physician visits and managing financial matters.  If you are also providing complex chronic care, you can add: medical and nursing tasks to the mix as well, daily and multiple times a day when your loved one's condition worsens.
Yes when, not if.  At the end of the day, these caregiving tasks added all up can easily take up the majority of your day and we haven't even calculated you and your personal time for yourself into the mix yet!

Whether you're providing your caregiving support at home, full-time, part-time or regularly checking in to a near-by skilled nursing facility daily, weekly or monthly, either way, the struggle is real!      

Given the vital role you play in your loved one's life, it is extremely important to remember to take care of yourself first so that you can continue providing the crucial help your loved one depends on you for.  As the flight attendant saying goes: “In the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.”  This was never more true for caregivers.

The fact that you're caregiving means you're unselfish, however, if you neglect self-care now it will lead to caregiver burn-out, depression, physical ailments and/or loneliness.  You need to be able to take care of yourself too so that you can effectively take care of the people you love. 

So forget New Year's Resolutions, here are 3 practical and helpful tips to get you going on a healthier path this new year:

Rest: Take a break when you can

I  get it, there's no time for breaks when you're caregiving, especially if all the responsibilities fall on you  as they usually always do. So I urge you to try the following:
  • Ask other family members or trusted friends for help by providing hands-on care, companionship, running errands or doing chores for you. 
  • If your family and friends are distant and not available as was the case with my situation, then consider hiring a paid family caregiver to give you some much needed respite for a couple hours. 
  • If money is tight as was also the case with my situation, seek out help from your local community senior health services or centers in your area and see if they can offer some sort of respite services.
  • If all else fails, then consider alternating household time-consuming chores to other times so as to get a much needed brief break. Taking a micro-break throughout the day will go a long way to helping reduce your stress when you're short on time.   
Recharge: Take time for yourself every day

I know, I know! You're probably yelling at me: "Are you crazy? I have no time for myself!" However, if you take just a few minutes throughout the day, you will start noticing an improvement:
  • Breathe!  No really, breathing exercises on a daily basis can drastically improve your stress levels. Try a 2 minute breathing exercise or meditation if you like. Anything to bring your focus and attention to yourself, your breathing, your heart rate or a mantra. Doing so can help lower the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn can then help calm you down.  
  • Connect with friends be it on the phone, online or in person. If leaving the house is not an option, try video chats. Maintaining social connections to your life outside of caregiving helps to recharge your spirit so reach out to family and friends. If no one is available, you can  also opt for online caregiving support groups so as to be able to connect with other caregivers going through similar struggles.
  • Get some fresh air and take a stroll around the block (once you  have someone watching your loved one for you) and if you have a dog even better, take the dog for a quick spin around the block. No dog? No problem. Pet the cat or any other furry or feathered companion you might have and if no pets are around, still take a stroll and focus on the many animals in your environment already present outside your door like birds, butterflies, neighborhood dogs, etc. Nature and animals can do wonders for you too. 
Repeat: Make it a point to keep the momentum going and schedule regular breaks

If you've gotten this far, make it a habit to try and repeat these steps on a regular basis to help improve mind, body and soul: 
  •  Get someone to sit with your loved one while you go out (or take a nap) – ask family, friends, volunteers from religious organizations or even trusted neighbors so that you can try and carve out a little bit of free time a couple of times a week.
  • Find and use local respite care programs within your community or church.
  • If your loved one is still in good physical health and is not home-bound, consider enrolling them in a local adult day care program. Be sure to do your due diligence on the place before sending them there but if all checks out ok and you're comfortable with it, then this too could be a possible outlet for you.

Ultimately, the more you practice self-care and tend to your needs as well, the better a caregiver you will be to your loved one.  I can tell you from many years of grueling experience doing this myself that it is not easy, even finding the time to seek help out can be overwhelming when you're already inundated with your regular caregiving duties, but it is well worth the extra effort put into finding such resources so as to help give you some much needed respite, even for just a little bit.      

Good Health and Happy New Year to you!

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