Looking back on the time I spent as the sole caregiver for my mother as she battled terminal COPD, I see numerous things I could have done to make the situation less stressful and more manageable. But as they always say, hindsight is 20/20. The new year is a great time to review one’s life, and set some goals for the upcoming months. Most people make at least one resolution as the calendar changes. Among the most popular resolutions: start exercising, stop smoking, and be more kind to others. As a past caregiver, I would like to use these ideas as a starting point to suggest resolutions for current caregivers to consider with the approaching new year.
- Start exercising…Begin to exercise your ability to ask for help. Caregivers, by nature, are “fixers” and tend to take everything on themselves. There are frequently other people waiting to assist you, but they are often uncertain of exactly what it is you need. Learning to ask -for specifically what will help you the most - will help you in your caregiving role and help others who are on the sidelines. I recall being at a shopping center running errands for my mom and trying to pick up her prescriptions before they closed. I was so flustered, before I knew what I was doing - I ran over a cement divider in the parking lot. Had I asked for help from my family in getting to the pharmacy on time, it would have saved me much stress. Even getting help with the smallest tasks can take some of the hectic nature out of caregiving.
- Stop smoking… Stop burning the candle at both ends. Caregiving is - or at least can feel like - a 24/7 job. It is easy to lose yourself in the responsibility for someone else’s well-being. But, it is not possible to be all things to all people. The “sandwich generation” phenomenon is very real for many people. Juggling children, work and aging parents is a challenge faced by many in a caregiving role. At times, there is need for assistance in more than just the simple tasks. Familiarize yourself with community assistance agencies that specialize in elder care and reach out to them. Even getting some respite care for a few hours every few days can free up time and energy for other parts of a busy life. Don’t be afraid to investigate all options available. Caring for my mother got remarkably easier when a hospice company stepped in to assist with symptom management and helping maintain her independence in her senior living apartment. I was still very involved in her care, but it helped to not try to do it all myself.
- Be more kind to others…Be more kind to yourself. It is impossible to be an effective and compassionate caregiver if you do not take care of yourself. Find something you love to do and schedule it each week. Designating time and putting it on your calendar will ensure you get around to actually doing it versus just waiting for the time to fit it in. It makes it more of a priority. Half the battle is admitting it is necessary to take care of you too. Maybe it is a yoga class, a movie, or reading for an uninterrupted hour. It will help you to refuel. For me, it was making time to take my dogs to the park and get a periodic manicure that helped maintain a sense of normalcy and well-being even when things got difficult. Making time to pamper yourself, however that looks for you, will make you a more balanced and patient caregiver.
So, as we ring in 2014, I urge you to adopt these resolutions as your own. Caregiving is one of the most important, yet exhausting, jobs you will ever do. Take some time and effort to take care of yourself as well. You deserve it. Happy New Year!
Sherri Bickley, LMSW
Emotional Support Services Consultant
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