We’ve all experienced it: that moment of frustration, despair, fatigue. The moment when we were less than our best. Maybe it was a harsh word or tears or silence towards your loved one. Maybe the crushing anxiety of being responsible for another person’s welfare left you sleep deprived. Maybe you stopped caring for yourself.
For our country’s 65 million caregivers, most will have that moment. The moment where you reached your limit and the stress feels insurmountable. It is not easy to acknowledge these times, and it can be difficult to know how to recover. Stress at this level can often lead to a deterioration in the relationship with your loved one, or care recipient.
Caregiving for a loved one typically is a transition from a very different type of relationship. You may be caring for a parent, partner, child, friend or chosen family member. These years of ‘caring about’ each other are the basis of the connection. When ‘caring about’ turns into ‘caring for’ someone the stress increases and the relationship can suffer.
We have encountered distraught daughters, partners in tears, and friends at their wits’ end due to the stress of caregiving. Balancing your own life while trying to make sure another person’s household, finances, personal care and nutritional needs are met can feel impossible. How do you minimize stress and return to a more enjoyable relationship?
Acknowledge You Are Human: The first step is being realistic about your capacity. No one is the ‘ideal caregiver’ all of the time. Your loved one benefits greatly from having you in their lives. There is no shame in recognizing that caregiving is difficult at times and you can’t do it alone.
Talk About It: Internalizing stress only serves to increase feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. Be honest with people close to you and share the emotional weight. Families sometimes self-select the caregiver, for example, the oldest child or the person with no children is the de facto caregiver. If others in the family aren’t able to care directly, they might be available for emotional support or other roles.
Get Help: Caregiving without support is a recipe for disaster in most cases. Reach out to people and organizations you trust, find an online caregiving community like The Caregiver Space or Caregiving.com to be supported by other caregivers.
Get Educated: Education is power, and this is especially true in caregiving. At The Care Plan, we keep caregivers and support teams informed about disease progression, what you can anticipate and how to prevent crisis. We also link people to trusted resources like medical providers, caregiving agencies, and more to carefully manage long term care needs.
Take Regular Time Off: Time off is your friend, it allows you the opportunity to recharge and come down from high alert. We encourage caregivers to identify their stress pattern and plan for time off around that. For some people an hour a day does the trick, for others it’s a week every 2 months.
Make Time For Fun With Your Loved One: This final tip is incredibly important to maintaining a meaningful relationship between caregiver and care recipient. Once you have built in breathing room and support for yourself, there’s space to have fun with the person you are caring for again. Try to have regular relationship-oriented time that isn’t about caregiving. For example, get back to having a date night, watching a favorite show, baking, visiting with friends. Those normal interactions can increase positive feelings between you and your loved one, and help you remember why you ‘cared about’ each other in the first place.
The Care Plan supports many types of families with Care Navigation services. On a larger scale, we actively develop practical resources and tools for you to best care for yourself or another person. Starting July 13th, we encourage you to tune in Thursdays for weekly YouTube videos packed with tips for caregivers and care recipients. Also, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions and ideas for content you would like to see.