A caregiver to an older loved one or other person with special needs takes care of everything, right? A caregiver is the one who gets the call in the middle of the work day … and in the middle of a night’s sleep. A caregiver is the one who has the answers when everyone else in the family is asking. A caregiver is the person that everyone in the family – most especially the care receiver – knows they can count on. Everyone except one, that is. It has been my experience that caregivers in the families with whom I work typically do not do a great job of taking care of themselves – the caregiver. So, be it resolved that if you are that caregiver – starting in 2022 you will take better care of the caregiver!
But where do you start? Start with taking twenty minutes for yourself this week. You may already know what you would do with twenty “extra minutes” in your day, but if you don’t, we have a page on our site called For the Caregiver. Consider it to be the caregiver’s second opinion. A lot of what we offer on that series of tabs is about how to better leverage your time, how to get the whole family involved or how to take care of you. One of my favorite parts is in the Tips section: make time each day to do something that delights, relieves or distracts you.
Don’t know what you would do with your twenty minutes, because you have a burgeoning “to do list” in your head that just seems to grow each time to try to take a time out? Try meditation, but don’t think you have to try to go this alone. Check out this web link that will talk you through how to unplug for those twenty minutes, and give yourself a couple weeks of pulling that plug. You should find that you are in a much better place at the end of those two weeks…and it will continue to get better with practice.
Build on that twenty minute timeout at the end of your two weeks. The second stage of this new year’s resolution is to increase the time you give yourself each day…by as little as a minute. And don’t think about this adding up to more than six hours by the end of the year. Work through the first couple months, and you will now be up to about an hour for yourself – which is still a very modest self-indulgence. And continue to focus on yourself during these hour+ respites from the rigors of caregiving.
And be prepared for the inevitable question that may come from your care receiver or someone else in your orbit. It may even evoke some guilt when you are asked why you are taking time away from caring for your care receiver, or why you are leaving them in the care of someone else whose time you are using to get your break. You will find your own way to say it, but work with this: “I can take better care of my loved one if I take better care of me.” Even your car deserves an oil change regularly, and you wouldn’t run it the number of hours you “run” you and expect it to be at its peak.
It’s very important to remember that these moments away from caregiving are not selfish; these moments are self-preserving! So, with your resolution resolutely in hand, prepare to put the “Happy” back in your New Year. Happy New Year.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.