Reluctance in asking for and accepting help is a major barrier to getting necessary respite and support. Who has time to think about breaks when there is a diaper that needs to be changed? 75% percent of caregivers in America are women. Some are taking care of their spouses/partners . Some are adult children who are taking care of their parents. Some are parents taking care of their adult children. What does taking care of yourself mean? Why is it so hard to do? And how do you do it? Here are 6 things you can do:
Support and coping comes in many forms—prayer, talking to family, friends or professionals, saying “yes” to offers of help, taking walks, reading a book, eating hot fudge sundaes. But most caregivers end up withdrawing from friends and family and feeling isolated and as if no one understands. Support groups can be an important source of understanding and connection.
Guilt that “I should” do this or be able to do it, guilt that your loved one wonʼt get as good care if you aren’t doing it, guilt that something will happen if you are away, guilt about having a good time when someone else is not. As there is no “perfect parent,” there is no such thing as a “perfect” caregiver. And you are not selfish to sometimes think about yourself and your needs and feelings. Although caregivers feel guilty when they get angry or frustrated, these feelings are OK and a way to know how well you are coping. “How can I say it is difficult when I really love this person?” questioned the husband of a client.
3. Learn to Ask for Help
Learn to ask for help. The often-heard question, “Is there anything you need?” has but one answer: Yes. “Yes, I need a meal, I need someone to stay here so I can go out, I need some time by myself, I need flowers, I need help in the garden, I need some groceries.” Learn to say “no” to requests that are draining rather than nurturing, such as hosting holiday meals. You can still make choices about your life and what is right for you and you do still have some control.
4. Listen To Your Body
Not getting enough sleep is a major cause of illness and stress in caregivers. Exhaustion is one of the main complaints, leading to irritability and then inappropriate anger which then leads to more guilt. Talk with your physician about medication for either yourself or your loved one to help with sleeping through the night. Know the limits of your own endurance and strength. Make sure you have regular check ups and that those “little concerns” about your health are looked into. Exercise is even more important as it gives you a break, combats depression, and helps you maintain health. When I talk with caregivers, one of their fears is worrying about what will happen to their loved one if something happens to them. Worrying doesnʼt help. Taking better care of your health does.
5. Educate Yourself
Learn as much as you can about the illness so that you can understand what is happening. Attend a workshop or support group, not just for emotional support but also to learn caregiving tricks to make caregiving easier. You can’t know it all; this is a job you werenʼt trained to do. Contact someone who can help you connect with community resources and use them.
6. Take Care of Your Emotional Health and Respite Care Needs
Taking care of yourself may mean dealing with family problems. How can you make your siblings pull their weight? Maybe you canʼt, b\ut learning how to have a family meeting or work around them is essential for survival. One family actually has a chart and marks off what each does so no one can say, “You aren’t doing your share.” It is easy to become overwhelmed, thus the need for breaks. A caregiver whose husband attends adult day care might be better able to care for her husband when he has been at daycare, because when he comes home, she is not already frustrated by him. Without respite breaks, you begin to question yourself, feel inadequate, and experience burn out. Caregivers are often mourning the loss of the person “who used to be.” Grief and loss, like all other emotions, need to be acknowledged.
Meanwhile, your best defense is a sense of humor. Find people or situations to laugh at daily. It refreshes the soul and renews your spirit.