It can be a secondary full-time job – but without the time clock. With all that is involved, it’s easy to understand that helping and supporting an aging senior as a caregiver can chew up a great deal of time – depending on the senior’s health condition and needs, 20 – 30 hours per week is certainly not uncommon! With that type of major time commitment, it’s also completely understandable how caregivers often disregard their own self-care in the process and claim they just “don’t have the time for themselves”.
It’s high time, however, to change that mindset. Taking personal time away (both physically and mentally as well, if possible …) from an aging parent is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your own health and well-being, your own sense of balance, and even your outside relationships (between you and your parent, your spouse/partner, your siblings, your children, your friends, your co-workers, and/or your employer). Pay close attention to the messages you are hearing from others and yourself – are you appearing or feeling tired, frustrated, increasingly impatient, or unwell? These can all be signals that you are not caring for yourself and it’s time for you to step back.
But when you’re working a full-time job of 40 hours per week and adding time for caregiving, how can you carve out some time for yourself? The answer is to start small and understand that your own personal breaks away from caregiving (otherwise known as taking respite …) don’t have to be extensive. You don’t have to take two weeks off to soak up the sun in Hawaii (but if you can, by all means, do so!) … even an hour per day just for you can serve you well.
What matters the most here is focusing on you and doing something that you enjoy. To that end, there are any number of shorter options of what you can do, but here are a number of ideas:
Meet a friend for coffee: Provide yourself some social interaction and stimulating conversation. Discuss mutual interests, the daily news, or last night’s win by your favourite sports team and try to steer clear of discussing your own caregiving situation now – instead, talk about other matters and clear your mind and thoughts of any negativity you might be experiencing.
Hire outside help: Check into local homecare agencies who can provide professional assistance (for a full day or even just a few hours …). If you bring in a trained expert to visit with your parent, cook him/her a meal, or bathe and clothe him/her in preparation for the day, these are matters that you will not have to tend to yourself. Consider that outside help doesn’t have to be provided just for aging parents … a housekeeper can clean your own home for you allowing you more free time.
Delegate dinner-making responsibilities: Share the meal preparation (and clean-up afterwards) with other family members. In the case of family members living apart, why not schedule one night per week when a brother or sister could prepare a meal and bring it over to eat together? Tackle the dinner dishes immediately after your meal when you’ll have more hands to deal with the work (and you won’t be left with a sinkful of dirty dishes to tend to the next morning …). If no one is up to cooking dinner, order in or choose a restaurant to visit instead.
Go for a brisk walk: Pull on a comfortable pair of walking shoes and head out the door. When I did this (and continually do so even years after both of my parents’ deaths …), I often didn’t have a destination in mind … it was essential for me to get some fresh air and exercise. I have also amped up my regular walks to regular runs.
Nap: Stretch out on your couch and rest for an hour or so. Set an alarm or ask someone to wake you up and remember to turn off your cell phone so you won’t be interrupted.
Allowing for an hour of personal respite time per day is not insurmountable – all it takes is some creative rethinking on your part of what is important and some rescheduling to make it happen. Take that hour for you – you will feel and see the difference!
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.