According to recent statistics, about one out of eight American adults between the ages of 40 and 60 cares directly for an aging parent. Among this group of caregivers, about half also spend a significant amount of time supporting kids of their own.
That makes for millions of unpaid family caregivers in the Sandwich Generation, burning the candle at both ends as they provide for older adults and younger kids at the same time.
Among family caregivers, this focus on providing for others can often mean putting personal needs on the backburner.
The Joys and Challenges of Caregiving
Every day, millions of unpaid family caregivers spend dozens of hours per week caring for a senior loved one — often, while also working full- or part-time jobs of their own. Millions of caregivers support an aging parent directly, even though they live hundreds of miles away.
Most family caregivers will tell you that providing for an elder is an act of love. Certainly, caring for other people is one of the most sacred and remarkable things you can do — but it’s also important to take care of yourself as you devote your time to taking care of others.
Around the country, millions of family caregivers experience stress and burnout. Caregivers are likely to report feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety. Millions of caregivers say that they do not have time to get enough sleep or exercise, and countless others say that they have given up their own doctor’s appointments and social obligations to help out a loved one.
Serving as a caregiver can take up a lot of time, focus, and energy. It’s important to “fill your own tank,” and make time for activities that fulfill and rejuvenate you.
Remember, your health, well-being, quality of life, and peace of mind truly matter — for yourself, and for the people in your care! When you get burnt out as a family caregiver, you are sacrificing your own health and well-being — but wouldn’t your loved ones want to see you rested, relaxed, and happy? At the same time, when you give yourself a chance to recharge as a family caregiver, you can take a step back and then return to caregiving with fresh eyes, more energy, and even more love and attention to give.
Bottom line? You deserve time for yourself! However, as we all know, taking time away can often be more easily said than done for family caregivers. As you look to replenish your mental and physical reserves and gain some much-needed respite, here are three time-saving strategies to consider:
Reach Out for Help
As a family caregiver, it can be difficult to reach out for help — but the advantages can be enormous. When you take time to refuel yourself, you’re protecting your own health and well-being, and improving your ability to care for your senior loved one over the long-term.
First thing’s first: Know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of incredible strength. There should be no guilt or shame in recognizing your limits and reaching out. In fact, the sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can start turning things around, and making life better for both yourself and your elderly loved one.
For family caregivers, help can come in many forms. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or looking for a resource, you may want to explore and see if there are any caregiver support groups in your area. In other cases, it may help to open yourself up and seek out additional assistance from other family members, as well as friends and neighbors who might be open to helping out. There are also countless services that can make some of the day-to-day tasks of caregiving easier, like food delivery and laundry pick-up services, or doctors who make time for in-home visits.
For many family caregivers, one of the most powerful forms of assistance may be to reach out to a home care provider, such as Companions for Seniors. Also called “respite care,” home care can help you connect your senior loved one with an experienced companion. Available on a full- or part-time basis, a senior companion can provide a variety of services designed to help an elderly adult live safely and comfortably at home, including providing assistance with activities of daily living, housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, and more.
Non-medical home care is a convenient way to give your senior loved one the care and support they need, without uprooting their lifestyle or curbing their independence. At the same time, this care can give you back crucial time for yourself — to rest, recharge, and refocus on other things.
Set Health, Wellness, and Lifestyle Goals for Yourself
As a family caregiver, you may find yourself setting lots of goals and important benchmarks for other people in your life. But when was the last time you set a plan and put it into action for yourself?
As the Family Caregiver Alliance puts it:
“Setting goals or deciding what you would like to accomplish in the next three to six months is an important tool for taking care of yourself.”
Studies have shown that we are more likely to take actions and make positive changes if we set clear goals. For family caregivers, taking some time to plan out the changes you’d like to make in your life can help transform these concepts from lofty dreams, to everyday realities.
To start, give yourself personal goals, and then break each goal down into more manageable steps. Some examples of goals for family caregivers might include:
- Take more breaks from caregiving
- Take steps to feel healthier
- Find a new activity that I enjoy
Those are great, positive, healthy goals! Now, divide them into more manageable, actionable steps. For instance, if your goal is to “feel healthier,” then some sub-goals may be to schedule a doctor’s appointment or check-up, start taking a fitness class once a week, or stretch for ten minutes at least once per day. If your goal is to take a break from caregiving, some actionable first steps may be to research home care in your area, and prepare a list of questions to ask new caregivers.
Setting goals can make it easier to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. Over time, even small steps can lead to a major change, helping you gain perspective, reclaim your independence, and make more time for yourself.
Organize, Prioritize, and Streamline
As part of its “Life Ed” series, NBC News once ran a powerful piece entitled “How Caregivers Can Care For Themselves.” It’s a great article, full of lots of helpful tidbits. Reading it now, one particular point jumps out:
“If you feel you don’t have enough time to take care of yourself, try these things to make time: Get organized… Prioritize… Set healthy boundaries.”
For family caregivers, taking a few steps to make your day-to-day easier can help you gain back more time to focus on things outside of caregiving.
When it comes to organizing, NBC News recommends investing some time upfront to streamline and structure your caregiving tasks. There are lots of ways to do this, including introducing technology into your care plan (such as online calendars, messaging tools, or automated devices around senior loved one’s home) and coordinating more efficient communication among different parts of caregiving team (companions, family members, healthcare pros, etc.).
For caregivers, it’s also important to learn to prioritize and set healthy boundaries. Every day, create a list, and focus on the most important tasks. Be realistic about what you can (or should) take on solo, and what you may be able to delegate to others. Re-prioritize regularly, depending on your loved one’s needs.
Above all? Accept your limits and acknowledge your successes. Remember, there are only so many hours in the day. Be gracious with yourself, and cut yourself some slack if you need to rearrange your schedule or move one task to another day. Try to avoid negative self-talk and pressure; celebrate your victories and look for moments of joy. Learn to say no, when appropriate. It’s important to make time for yourself and set productive, positive boundaries, where you can.
How Companions for Seniors Can Help
Family caregiving is one of the most remarkable acts of love and support that there is. As a caregiver, it’s important to set boundaries, be realistic, and take care of your own health and well-being, just as you would the senior loved one in your care.
If you have any further questions about taking care of yourself as a family caregiver, or want to learn more about the amazing benefits of respite care for seniors and their loved ones, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors. We’re here and happy to be your sounding board as you and your loved ones prepare to transition into a new phase of your journey together.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
While helping seniors maintain a higher quality of life, we also hope to provide greater peace of mind for family caregivers who may need some support of their own.
We are locally owned in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs. All of our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can assist your loved one in many different ways, including providing assistance with activities of daily living, meal preparation, housekeeping, transportation services, and more.
From one hour to 24 hours a day, we can be there for you and your loved one. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.
Want to make more time for yourself? Ready to help your senior loved one enjoy the benefits of respite care? To get started, fill out our convenient online form or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today.