Making the Labor of Love More Rewarding
Caregiving is a truly noble task, and there is little if any monetary compensation. The work is hard; the hours are long, and it requires emotional, mental and physical labor. It can be a job that comes unexpectedly – many times loved ones become ill without warning and the caregiver who steps in does so because there is no one else. Under these circumstances it is no wonder that the caregiver is left frustrated, stressed and often times with the feeling of being alone in his or her situation. The caregiver then feels guilty about feelings of resentment, especially if he/she is caring for a parent who, at one, time took care of of his/her needs as a vulnerable child. The question becomes – how do caregivers get past these feelings of resentment, isolation and guilt, and relieve the stress associated with the daily challenges of caregiving?
Develop a Support System
One of the biggest issues associated with caregiver burnout is the myth that the caregiver is alone. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to help. Family and friends may be more available than you think. If there is no one close by who can assist you, there are social service agencies that offer programs that either are low cost or no cost for people who meet income eligibility requirements. They can also help by providing the names of local volunteer groups that offer respite relief, assist with household chores, transportation and cooking. A great social service agency to contact for programs and available resources is the Area Agency on Aging.
Support groups are a great way to deal with the feelings associated with caregiving. The local Area Agency on Aging usually has a list of support groups for caregivers in your community. Eldercare Locator is an excellent resource to find the Area Agencies on Aging as well as other resources in your area and can be accessed at www.eldercare.gov.
Sometimes, as a caregiver, you can get so wrapped up in the needs of the person you are caring for that you may forget to make time for yourself. You may be asking the question, “What time?” That is where the support system comes in. Make it a habit to take at least ten minutes a day away from the hectic tasks of your normal routine. Some ways to combat stress and to become more effective are to take a meditation class, soak in a bubble bath, read a book before falling asleep, or eating your favorite meal. If you give all of yourself away, you will have nothing left for you or your care recipient.
Another priority is taking a break at times. If you are too tired or need a break and would like to enlist respite care but your care recipient gets too agitated at the thought of you leaving, reassure him/her calmly that you will be back. You may try leaving for brief periods of time at first. Try making it at the same times and the same days of the week. When you take the time for yourself and allow for a respite period you both will benefit.
A sense of humor is an important part of getting through the day. We have all heard the saying, “if I didn’t laugh about the situation I would cry.” This is especially true for the situations that come up in caregiving. Laughter is contagious – your laughter may bring a smile to your care recipient. If you are having a hard time finding humor in day-to-day situations, watch a comedy, read the comics, think about something you find particularly humorous, or focus on an activity that makes you laugh and it may help you to see things in a different light.
The answer to these questions will enable you to set appropriate boundaries, which in turn will relieve you of some of the day-to-day stress of your activities. Out of a feeling of obligation and/or guilt we sometimes do too much for our care recipients, possibly taking away some of our loved one’s independence without even realizing it. If you can encourage the recipient to maximize his/her independence, you not only take an additional load off of you, but you also bring meaning and purpose back into the life of the one you are caring for.
If you incorporate a support system, make time for yourself, laugh a little, and set boundaries, the joy of giving to your recipient will return. The experience can add meaning and purpose to your life and be very rewarding. Just remember above all, you are worth the time and effort that you put into yourself. As long as you take care of you, everything else will become less overwhelming.