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When Being in Demand Isn’t Healthy

If you’re a musician, you want to be busy, because gigs represent a better living.  If you’re an actor you want more roles in more productions, because more visibility means better contracts.  If you’re a working professional, you want to be busy, because being more billable makes for a better salary.  If you are a caregiver, the question becomes how busy do you want to be.  And how busy is healthy for you.

I had a conversation with a caregiver a while back who described his life this way.  “I have gone from five hours of uninterrupted sleep a night caring for my mom to five hours of interrupted sleep a night.”  This is a classic case of how we describe what we do will define how we think about what we do.  Experts call it “linguistic determinism.” Does this person sound like a fulfilled or happy caregiver?  Caregivers more likely than not will be busy people, but how do they feel and what are they really accomplishing?

The person who is “too busy” certainly may seem like a valuable person, but in reality the caregiver who is “too busy” probably just has a consistent feeling of “time deficit.”  If caregiving were breathing, this person would constantly be breathless.  Being this busy also has a way of becoming a habit where the caregiver is trapped in the cycle and may even feel that there is no alternative.  Who wants to admit they don’t love mom or dad or not measure up to what the caregiver perceives as everyone’s expectations?  They want to measure up.  Not being busy helping mom or dad must mean they don’t care, so the beat goes on.

Being too busy also means that a caregiver loses sight of the goal, and they get so caught up in being busy that all the little things of mom’s or dad’s lives become the focus.  All the while this is going on, the “busy caregiver” continues to take on more, not realizing that always being available actually diminishes the value of what they do and who they are.  So, how does a caregiver break the cycle?

It starts with language.  Instead of being “busy,” perhaps the caregiver can begin talking about what gives them “satisfaction” or “fulfillment?”  Instead of preparing three meals a day and cleaning house for mom or dad, perhaps a caregiver’s time can be better spent sharing stories with mom and dad with the other tasks being delegated.  Or maybe there is something that the caregiver’s unique skill set allows them to bring to mom or dad that both they and their care receivers will find fulfilling…sharing photos of the grandkids, playing music together, going for a walk and conversation?

And at the end of the day, the best thing caregivers can do when they reduce their frenetic “busyness” is to offer a role model to the next generation as well as others.  Remember, kids are more likely to be influenced by what they see than by what you say, and ultimately they take away how what they saw made them feel.  So, increase your happy and decrease your busy…and there will be a multi-generational benefit.

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.


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