Roll out of bed, shower, get dressed, disregard breakfast, and splash down a quick cup of coffee. Get the kids off to school, search for your car keys, peck your partner goodbye, and race out the door to the office. Attend multiple meetings at work, manage additional projects which land on your desk, and (potentially) work overtime. Pick up the kids, stop at the grocery store, squeeze in a visit to the gym, or fight rush hour traffic on the way home. Sound familiar? Our typical days are spent trying to accomplish far too much in too little time – often at the expense of ourselves.
For many, the answer may be trying to multitask – thinking that they can get more done. Multitasking, however, is not an effective means to live and/or work. In fact, overloading oneself can become very ineffective … the more we try to do, the less we accomplish. Yes, a person can manage for some amount of time and may mistakenly think or appear to be bravely holding things together; however, a person simultaneously juggling too many balls in the air may, eventually, drop one (or more). We all have our limits as to what we can humanly do.
If we look at caregivers (family members, friends, spouses/partners providing help and support to aging or disabled loved ones), these individuals can be prime examples of those people routinely taking on too much. As a former co-caregiver for my own aging parents (Mom had Parkinson’s disease and Leukemia and Dad had Alzheimer’s disease), I know about this first-hand. In their final years, I moved my parents (locally and longer-distance), advocated for them, drove them to doctor’s appointments, helped to manage their day-to-day banking and long-term investments and served as Dad’s Joint Guardian and Alternate Trustee. I found that caregiving, as a job, can be overwhelming enough … what made it even more challenging was my also trying to continually work, pursue schooling, and live my own life – I paid the price with being stretched physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. When managing the needs of another, caregivers are often kept running non-stop during the day and kept awake at night worrying about the health and well-being of someone they love. Caregiving can become an all-consuming job.
As a prospective, new, or current caregiver, remember to slow down – mind you, it’s far easier said than done. Caregivers will, quite expectantly, devote much of their focus and energy on someone else and be tempted to be available around the clock. Really, there is no surprise there! But, in the process of caring for someone else, caregivers must also heed their own self-care. I am certainly not suggesting that you shirk your caregiving responsibilities entirely; instead, I am urging you to recognize and remember that you play an integral role in your loved one’s care and you must remain physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy to do so. By continually plowing ahead and trying to accomplish too much when you are tired, stressed, and/or sick, you are a risk to both your loved one and yourself. It is far better (for all parties involved) to rest and recuperate … I well remember a sign posted at my father’s long-term care centre during a flu outbreak which read, “If you’re sick, please visit us another day”.
Caregiver self-care (also known as respite) doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. When my own caregiving responsibilities weighed heavily on me, I would escape to a local coffee shop where I would find a quiet corner table, turn off my cell phone, leisurely sip a tall cappuccino, and read the daily newspaper for an hour – a simple thing to do and very effective to recharge. There are any number of options available; all you have to do is do something you enjoy and take the time to do it. You will find that practicing self-care will keep you happier and healthier and result in your being a better caregiver.
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on this same subject in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.