If you’re not already one of the 44 million people caring for an elderly, sick, or disabled person in the United States, chances are high that you will become one. With more than 10,000 people turning 65 every day and expected to live to 85.4, the number of caregivers is expected to grow, as is the epidemic of caregiver stress
As a caregiver, you will no doubt hear from friends, family, so-called experts, and complete strangers that caregiving is a gift. But for many of you, especially those who are trying to balance caregiving with career, it will feel more like a burden.
The reality is that caregiving is often both. It can certainly be stressful to have responsibility for another human’s well being. And it can be incredibly challenging to try to balance doctor’s appointments, medical emergencies, and the overall unpredictability of caring for someone with the need to show up and produce at work every day. However, there are incredible benefits to helping someone when they most need you. So how do you access the positive side of caregiving, while managing the more challenging aspects?
Research suggests people who take an active, problem-solving approach to caregiving are less likely to feel stressed than those who worry or feel helpless and are more likely to realize the positive benefits of caregiving. So how do you move from resistance to acceptance as a caregiver? Here are 4 strategies:
- Create timelines. Caregiving often feels like it will never end. When we are in the midst of it, we can feel stuck and unable to see any other way of life. Give yourself timelines and pace yourself one phase at a time. Even if your timelines are self-created, they will help you focus and not get too overwhelmed. When my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I focused on what I needed and wanted to do during her remaining time. After she passed away, I gave myself until the end of the year to accept the loss. In January, I gave myself until June to focus on all of my father’s appointments I had neglected when my mother was sick plus all of the paperwork I had to file following my mother’s death. It was a frustrating period full of appointments and insurance claims, but I told myself it would be over in six months. When my father came down with an illness, I created yet another timeline. I know I can get through each phase -I call it contained pain – but if I start thinking about “always” or “forever” I get overwhelmed.
- Focus. During each self-defined phase of caregiving, give yourself permission to focus on the most critical issues and not worry about EVERYTHING. We cannot do everything at once – nor should we. During each phase of caregiving, evaluate what is most important to you – and limit that list to no more than 3-5 things. What must you do in your caregiving role? What must you do to maintain your career or advance it if that’s what is important to you? What is most important in your family? (Hint: it’s probably not housework but it may be eating dinner with your kids each night). The laundry can wait. Life will not. Click To TweetDo you need to focus on your own health? Put the rest on hold. It’s frustrating to defer parts of your life for a role you probably never expected to have (I know, I hear it from caregivers everyday and I have experienced it myself) but it’s important to focus on reality. And we’re not talking forever – we are talking about right now.
- Find a support system. Maybe your spouse is your rock or maybe he or she just doesn’t get it. Are your siblings checked out? Move on. Now is not the time to try to change someone. Accepting your role as caregiver means letting go of any magical thinking. Accepting your role as caregiver means letting go of magical thinking. Click To TweetJoin a support group in real life or online. We’ve got a great group on Facebook that lifts each other up and helps each other out. If your family member is on hospice care, take advantage of the family resources. As your doctor for resources. Don’t do this alone.
- Make the choice. For me, the shift from resistance to acceptance as a caregiver came when I actively made the decision to take charge of the situation. I spent a lot of time wishing things were different and feeling sorry for myself. But we always have a choice and when you make one, you shift from victim to boss. And in doing so, you set yourself up for the positive aspects of caregiving, not just the stressful parts. When we let go of what we planned, and we focus on what we have, we clear space in our heads and in our lives. Let go of what you planned, and focus on what you have. It clears space in your head and your life. Click To Tweet
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