The irony of caregiving is that us caregivers often don’t take much care of ourselves. We’re so busy with everyone else’s doctor appointments, errands, and needs, that often our own health and requirements take a back seat.
This checklist provides 9 actionable and easy-to-implement tips for reducing stress and meeting those needs:
#1 Learn to Ask for Help
“We have the illusion…that not being able to adequately care for our aging parents indicates we are weak or somehow lacking,” says Jude Bijou, author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. “Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes more than one person to care for an elder.” But overcoming those feelings takes practice. Start with a baby step: Ask a close friend who’s offered to help to do one thing for you. You will both feel better!
#2 Make a List of Specific Tasks for Others
People really want to help but often have no clue how to show up for you. “It helps to write out a list of things that would help you and have it ready the next time someone says, ‘Let me know if I can do anything.’”
#3 Involve Your Children
Kids often want to help, but don’t know how. Ask them to brainstorm things they want to do to help. “I recently talked to a family whose 13-year-old granddaughter set up a caregiving schedule for the family on a Google calendar,” says Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring for Your Loved One. “She was excited to contribute.”
#4 Get Moving
If you can carve out the minimum 20 minutes a day for exercise, great! But don’t give up if you can’t. There are lots of apps you can use to help you move in short bursts throughout the day, no equipment or athletic wear required. Depending on how many activities you put in with each reminder, you can burn 100 to 200 calories! You’ll feel better and be healthier.
#5 Reduce the Impact of Family Conflicts
Don’t waste time and energy on past transgressions or blame. “Deal only with the issue at hand — avoid bringing in past unresolved problems,” Bijou counsels. “The worst thing you can do is to ‘you’ the other person by accusing or blaming. State your opinions, needs, and wants about the one specific topic.”
#6 Streamline Healthcare Communications
Reduce the frustration of phone tag with healthcare professionals. Many medical practices now use email and cloud technology to make scheduling appointments, requesting appointments or refills, and asking simple questions easier. Find out if yours do!
#7 Let It Go
“I tried to keep my sadness, grief, confusion, and worry about my mom to myself,” recalls Deborah Shouse, author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver's Journey. “I finally really allowed myself to fall apart, cry, mourn, express my grief, and I felt better. I journaled my feelings. I talked to empathetic friends. I asked them for permission to call if the feelings overwhelmed me. Having permission in advance meant I wouldn’t be too shy to reach out when I really needed help.” You need to get these feelings out so you can acknowledge them and then move on.
#8 Outsource It
Routine tasks like bookkeeping, house-cleaning, errands, and yardwork can be done for a reasonable fee by enterprising young neighbors or professionals. Investigate bonded services to ferry your children from school to activities or senior centers and other facilities that welcome drop-ins so you can have some time to yourself.
#9 Make a List of Things That Make You Happy
When times get tough, Shouse goes to a list of 10 things that bring her instant joy, like eating a square of dark chocolate, reading from a mystery and “joyously moving to Dancing Queen. Every day, I tried to do at least one thing on the list, as a sign that I was taking care of myself,” she says. And whether you believe it or not, you can always find time to do one small thing for yourself.
Even if you undertake just one of these tactics, you’ll feel better. Every little bit makes a big difference.