April 1, 2020

“I think we sometimes underestimate the challenges that come with caregiving. As a result, we are not prepared for the difficulties we face.  And we sometimes lose patience. I am not saying that if we prepare we will never be frustrated or impatient. But when we acknowledge that caregiving brings both joys and frustrations, we can prepare ourselves for the difficult times.” — “Ask Dr. Amy,” CaregiverStress.com

To care for another person is one of the most selfless and profound acts of love there is. The millions of family caregivers in this country deserve boundless respect and recognition. Caring for an aging or sick loved one often requires an enormous commitment of time and energy — not to mention deep wells of patience, compassion, and empathy. 

As a family caregiver, it’s only natural to want to give as much of your time and attention as possible to the loved one in your care. But it’s also natural — and incredibly important — to have limits and boundaries. Even the most flexible and loving family caregiver in the world may face moments where they lose their patience, if only for a moment or two. 

In these difficult spots, it’s important to take a step back. Be kind to yourself, as you would to the person in your care. Just because you slipped up does not mean that you are failing. Instead, this can be a wonderful opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow so that you can move forward and refocus on practicing patience and kindness — both for the loved one in your care, and for yourself. 

You’re Not Alone

Remember, to care for another person is to open yourself up to a whole new world of wonderful opportunities and remarkably difficult challenges. This is especially true when caring for an elderly loved one, or someone who is managing a chronic illness. 

Caregivers spend so much time supporting others that they often don’t get the support they deserve for themselves. As a result, burnout and stress are common. Caregivers also frequently face difficult battles with guilt, shame, and anxiety. Studies have found that: 

  • 16% of caregivers are “emotionally strained,” and 26% “state that taking care of their loved one is hard on them emotionally”
  • 30-40% of dementia caregivers suffer from “both depression and emotional stress”
  • In a survey, more than half of all unpaid caregivers say that they don’t have time to exercise, and 70% say that they feel tired “most of the time”
  • 40% of caregivers report feeling burdened by their daily chores

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you’re reaching your limits as a caregiver, always remember that you are not alone. There are lots of resources out there designed to help family caregivers manage in difficult situations, and there is no shame or guilt in reaching out when you need it. In fact, knowing your limits and asking for help is one of the most selfless and strong things you can do. 

Look out for local support groups and meetings for family caregivers. You may also be able to take advantage of local services in your area that can help seniors age in place, from food delivery to at-home banking and health services. Finally, remember that home care and respite care can help. A professional senior companion can be there when you need some time away, ready to support your loved one with help around the house, driving services, or simply some kind and friendly company. 

Be Mindful of Your Own Feelings

As a family caregiver, it’s important to practice mindfulness. This means being present and in the moment, and recognizing changes as they come up. Think about your loved one’s needs, and your needs as a caregiver. Are there specific situations that make you feel anxious or frustrated? Take note of how different circumstances or events make you feel, and be prepared to look out for these potential “triggers” in the future. 

As the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) has wisely put it: “When you are frustrated, it is important to distinguish between what is and what is not within your power to change.” 

Often, frustration and impatience can arise from trying to “change an uncontrollable circumstance.” As the FCA notes, one thing you can control in difficult times is “how you respond to that circumstance.” That may mean: 

  • Learning to recognize the warnings signs of frustration or stress
  • Practicing ways to calm yourself down in the moment (such as practicing breathing, visualizing, or removing yourself from the situation)
  • Finding helpful solutions for dealing with difficult thoughts and habits
  • Learning to improve your communication skills
  • Knowing when to ask for help 

This can take a lifetime of practice and adjustment. As esteemed author and dementia caregiver Susan Tereba has written:

“The only thing to do is to be as aware as possible of what’s truly going on. It seems to me that this awareness holds the key to healing. I also see the need to have compassion for myself and for what I’m endeavoring to do. Awareness and self-patience don’t come easily.”

Practice the Golden Rule

One of the most powerful steps for practicing empathy in any situation is to remember the popular “Golden Rule:” 

“Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

When you’re in a tough spot with your senior loved one, try to take some time to put yourself in their shoes. Maybe they’re avoiding a difficult conversation because they’re embarrassed or afraid. Perhaps they’re responding with anger to an everyday challenge because they’re in physical or emotional pain they can’t express. 

Think about your loved one’s wants and needs, and think about what you would want if your roles were reversed. Adopting this mindset can be a helpful way to approach communicating with your loved one, and coming up with strategies for difficult choices and transitions — like giving up driving or accepting the services of a professional home care company. 

Refill Your Tank

Many caregivers have the tendency to want to give, give, and then give some more. However, it’s also important to remember that when all you do is focus on others, you’re running the risk of depleting your reserves — emotionally, physically, and mentally. 

As a caregiver, it’s essential to make time for your own health and well-being. Take action to care for yourself, and be willing to put your own needs first sometimes. This could be as simple as taking time for breaks throughout the day, or as big a step as bringing in respite care to regain a few days a week for work or childcare. 

When you do have time away from caregiving, remember to take care of your basic needs. Many caregivers can get so busy that they don’t make it a priority to schedule their own doctor’s appointments, exercise, get enough sleep, or eat healthy and fulfilling meals. Remember that you’ll have more energy, love, and patience to give to others if you first replenish yourself. With that in mind, carve out time and energy for self-care; pamper yourself every now and then, and find activities and interests that invigorate and relax you. 

Enjoy the Little Things

When the stress and hassle of caregiving start to feel too burdensome, remember to look on the bright side. This isn’t always the easiest way to think in the moment, so instead, try to make it a habit to look for positives wherever you can. 

For example, you could end each day by journaling about your biggest successes for the day. You may also simply try to focus on the little details and experiences that make you smile as they come up. A story shared with your elderly loved one, a delicious bite of food, a particularly gorgeous sunset during your walk around the block… All of these little joys are things you can use to inspire and refresh you along your caregiving journey. 

Want To Talk All Things Senior Care?

If you have any questions about caring for the older adult in your life, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors! We’d be happy to field your questions or concerns, share our experiences, and talk over what it takes to care for your aging loved ones while also safeguarding your own health and peace of mind. 

If you have a parent or relative that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a trained and knowledgeable caregiver, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the professionals at Companions for Seniors.

Our companions are bonded, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one. We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs.

We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle, connect with their community, and nurture meaningful relationships. 

Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? Want to get in touch? Give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form available here.