There’s no way I can take a break from caregiving!
If that’s what you’re thinking upon first glance at this post, KEEP READING. A break is possible — and absolutely necessary. Check out our tips, ideas and resources on how to take a break from the hard work of providing care:
First, think of rest as a requirement, not a reward. Caregivers often feel guilty for wanting a break, but the truth is, it’s a natural desire and one that should not be ignored. Doing so only leads to burnout, and when caregivers experience exhaustion, they’re of no help to anyone and endangering their own health. According to this post on the Family Caregiver Alliance website, “…if you are a caregiving spouse between the ages of 66 and 96 and are experiencing mental or emotional strain, you have a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of people your age who are not caregivers.” Take rest seriously.
Set boundaries. Part of this is saying no to commitments that you don’t have time for or interest in, another part of it is simplifying your schedule (which will happen by default as you learn to say no more often). Limit your time in relationships that are draining, rather than refreshing; especially as a caregiver, you need that balance of give and take. Learn more in this post, Setting Boundaries in Caregiving.
Do something creative. When you have a minute of down time, the temptation is to plop in front of the TV with a bag of chips or box of chocolates. But clearly, these things won’t refresh or rejuvenate you. Take up knitting. Draw or paint. Mold a clay figure. Cook or bake. Play music. Need more ideas? Check out A Place for Mom’s 5 Stress Relieving Activities for Caregivers.
Change something in your caregiving routine. Sometimes a simple adjustment of your routine offers a bit of relief — and keeps you out of a rut, which is exhausting in and of itself. It doesn’t have to be a drastic change. Instead of washing clothes every Wednesday, switch to Thursdays, or alternate between Tuesday and Friday.
Delegate tasks. You know all those people who said “if there’s anything I can do, let me know” after you became a caregiver? Call them. Before calling them, make sure you have a specific task in mind, like doing a load of laundry, running errands, taking your loved one to the doctor once a month, or making a meal every other week. It’s a lot easier to hold people accountable for their good intentions when you’ve asked them to help in a specific way. Organize these gifts of time and assistance with a caregiving chore chart, available for free on the Lotsa Helping Hands site.
Take short breaks every day. Start with five minutes, then work up to 10, 15, and 20. Take a walk, call a friend, pet the cat, put your feet up. Or…do nothing at all. Get in the habit of giving yourself breaks, and you’ll probably find bursts of energy you didn’t think you had.
Hire a cleaning service. Scrubbing the kitchen floor, dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathroom should still happen now and then when you’re caregiving, but it doesn’t have to be done by you. Look into the cost of hiring a cleaning service at least once a month, and don’t be deterred by the cost. Think of it as an investment into self-care.
Bring in home care, or consider short-term stays/respite care so you can get the rest you need.
Take part in respectful (and productive) venting. All those bottled up emotions and thoughts swirling around inside have to come out sometime. Get a journal if you must, or find a friend who can listen, support and empathize. For tips on managing role- reversals when caring for parents or other older relatives, check out this post.