Caring for our ill and aging relations is a rewarding act of love and devotion. It’s also a demanding one. And while our motivations for and desire to tend to the people we love never change, the ways we do it – and deal with the stress of it – do evolve.
Take Care of Yourself
It's never been more OK to take care of yourself without feeling guilty. Just look at all the self-care memes and hashtags.
“It's incredibly important for caregivers to take time for themselves because you still have a life of your own to enjoy and because your loved ones need you to be well," notes health coach and Ayurveda practitioner Tesia Love. “You can't take care of others if you yourself are run down. So when caregivers take time for themselves, we’re performing an act of service for the other person. Feeling rested and nourished allows us to provide a higher level of care.”
Many of us got more accustomed to being alone during COVID-19 lockdowns. But loneliness is different – a feeling of isolation or lack of human connection with others.
"Lack of social, intimate and emotional connections leads to loneliness and can be linked to many mental health disorders, along with serious health problems or diseases," cautions Charla Anderson, BSN, RN-PMHNC at Oceans Healthcare. Ignoring these feelings can lead to deeper emotional pain like stress, anxiety and depression, which can “cause an increase in cortisol, a stress-induced hormone and lead to weight gain, fatigue, inability to sleep and hypertension.”
Understand and Prepare for Financial Implications
We’re all afraid of unexpected financial issues, but that doesn’t mean we’re eager to think about them. Yet preparing is the best way to avoid them, according to Chris Cooper MSFS, CFP®.
“We must plan for the possibility of being a caregiver to someone we love, realize the impacts and plan for them,” he says. Financial planners who are certified to work with seniors have direct experience that helps them create accurate projections and budgets. Your local department of aging or banker can also help.
Devise a Plan to Blend Work and Caregiving
Balancing work and caregiving requires a mix of compassion, personal advocacy and planning. Though it may awkward, be transparent with your employer about your caregiving responsibilities.
Talk to your HR rep about policies on working from home, time off, leave and other accommodations. Then explore alternative work arrangements with your supervisor. Check in with your social network or community council on aging to access advice and support from others facing the same challenges. And don’t forget to discuss your needs with family members and friends who can pitch in.
Ask for Help and Access Resources
“There is the Superwoman / Superman syndrome in this country where needing help is perceived as some kind of weakness,” explains Sheila Warnock, founder and president of ShareTheCaregiving, Inc. But asking for and getting help is a sign of strength.
Being a “good” child means ensuring our elders’ care and safety – whether by us or others. Successfully balancing self-sufficiency with smart support is affirming and empowering. So seek out the help you need. Online and in-person support groups provide a safe space for an honest discussion of the challenges and opportunities of being a family caregiver. Many local, state and national organizations host groups on Facebook, even convening chats and livestream events. Search the web or ask your doctor for other suggestions.
Hotlines provide immediate support from trained professionals. and The AARP Caregiver Hotline offers help in English (877-333-5885) and Spanish 888-971-2013). Caring for a veteran? Consult the VA’s hotline at 855-260-3274.
Accept Grief and Other Complicated Feelings
Even when our elders age gracefully, it can still be hard for us to accept their growing old. “Allow yourself to grieve,” asserts Nicole Pontillo of Dancing Love Organics. “Even though your family member is still alive, it’s sad to witness their illness. Give yourself permission to feel all the emotions. Honor the cycle of life by giving testimony to the experience.”
Journaling is an easy way to express complicated emotions so they don’t build up. Online and in-person support groups provide safe and confidential spaces to explore feelings. Don’t be ashamed to seek help from a grief counselor or mental health professional if the situation starts to be overwhelming.
Take Advantage of Technology
Technology makes caregiving easier. Online calendars make it easier to coordinate care and stay on top of appointments. Ride-hailing and food delivery apps provide support for your family member when you can’t. Tablets and mobile phones make it possible to stay in touch regardless of where you are, and social media and video chat apps make that even easier. Technology can help us stay safe and healthy, too.
Medical alert systems help users get assistance with just the touch of a button. Innovations in automatic fall detection can even call for help if the wearer can’t press the button. Medication dispensers reduce the risk of missing a dose or accidentally taking too many pills. There are even mobile apps designed specifically for caregivers that allow you to store notes about your family member’s condition, communicate with others in the care circle and get advice and tips.
For years now, sources as diverse as Oprah and academic researchers have told us that taking time to be thankful for what we have or what is going right can help us feel happier and less stressed. Becoming a family caregiver is a great time to start, restart or recommit to a daily gratitude practice.
Start small by keeping a gratitude journal. Write down two or three things you’re grateful for before you start your day or before you go to bed at night. Items might include the sound of hoot owls or seeing the smile on your Mom’s face. It seems simple, but this easy tactic helps us build a more positive mindset and find happiness in caregiving.
Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be suffering from a healthcare condition.