COACHING FOR CAREGIVERS
When you feel you have exhausted the goodwill of family and
friends, yet need someone to listen, bounce ideas off of or gain perspective,
consider talking to a professional trained in these skills. A Professional
Coach can help you focus on the positive aspects of your life, while
understanding the demands your Caregiver situation places on you. How to
find balance in your life, how to deal with the guilt you may feel, the shifting
emotions and the many other questions that plague you in your new role.
CARING FOR THE CAREGIVER: YOU
7 Steps to begin right now to care for yourself!
Remember the airline attendant saying, “In the event of an
emergency, attach your own oxygen mask first, then assist your child”? It’s a
cold fact that you can’t help someone else if you’re sick, exhausted or in need
yourself. The same principle applies for the Caregiver- someone charged with
helping a family member, friend or anyone on an ongoing basis. You can’t
fulfill your responsibility if you haven’t the physical or mental stamina.
Caregivers often hear this phrase from well meaning friends,
doctors or family, “take care of yourself too!” .
‘Nice sentiments, not so easy to do’ you say to yourself.
Your life seems fairly normal to outsiders who see you at work, doing the
typical errands, or maybe even taking care of your children or grandchildren.
In the beginning it almost is… normal, that is.
Maybe it was an accident that caused a physical disability.
Perhaps he’s not working anymore and is depressed and lethargic. Maybe
depression is causing more arguments than your marriage had before. A reduced
family income may impact both your ability to do fun things...or even meet some
of your basic bills. Resentments creep in and you feel guilty.
Or perhaps the change began more slowly. First it may have
been more questions from your loved one. Then may come the forgetting…the
pills, the appointments, the bills to be paid. Since you’re not the one
usually responsible for these things, the change may not be noticeable for
awhile. Then one day, you are looking for something and see the stack of unpaid
bills. Or, perhaps, you’re over at your parent’s home and notice the pills are
still in the pillbox of several days past and his behavior seems somewhat
Your helping begins gradually… like a second voice going on
in your head. Reminding, checking up on, watching. It’s not even so obvious to
you at first. Eventually, you realize you’re living two lives...your own and
that of your loved one. The stress begins. In these busy times, it’s hard
enough living one’s own life. Soon you are trying to keep track of two lives,
or, maybe you’re part of the sandwich generation…where you’re caring for your
children and parents…or spouse.
But, who is caring for you?
Friends offer to help. To listen. And you reluctantly call
upon them when things get double- booked, as they inevitably will. There never
seems to be enough time these days. When they ask you how you’re doing, you
tell them. At first. Soon you realize you are becoming a broken record. You
don’t mean to complain…just want them to understand. Yet, after awhile you see
the eyes glaze over, the story is a repetition of the one you told before. This
is becoming your life…and what you need to talk about. Yet, you do not want to
be a burden to your friends, be seen as needy, uninteresting, a bore.
So, you close down. When asked, you say fine and switch
subjects to their interesting life. You try to be up, but know you’re faking
it. Inside you’re wondering what you forgot to do this morning, what’s next on
your calendar for yourself or the “other lives” that you care for. And, you
wonder is there someway to care for yourself better?
The following are 7 critical steps to begin right now to
ease your life as a Caregiver:
1. Take care of yourself physically first. You are
no good to your “others” if you don’t keep yourself healthy and physically
strong. This includes a routine; yes, scheduled time for your own exercise.
Walking or some form of aerobic exercise is most important. A minimum of 30
minutes at least 4 days a week (7 is better) should be your goal. Add to that,
stretching and some strengthening exercises at least 3 days a week. Some simple
programs I’ve found can be found through Prevention® magazine (Fat to Firm in 20
minutes®) or Reader’s Digest (Change One.com). Of course joining a Fitness
center can be both helpful and fun. Trainers can be very helpful
with beginners or to keep you on track safely.
2. Nurture your mental health. Even 10 minutes of
focused relaxation will help you recharge and reduce your added stress. There
are many ways to relax including deep breathing, meditation, just walking
outside listening to the birds and looking at the nature all around us. Of
course a massage or an afternoon at a spa will feel like a mini vacation.
3. Eat healthy. When we’re stressed we often reach
for the sweets or heavy comfort foods. Normally, that’s OK in moderation as
long as you’re not overweight or have a dietary issue yourself. However,
following a balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits will give you something
to munch on and be healthier in the long run. When the urge strikes, try
taking a short walk first or drinking a full glass of water. Remember, 8
glasses of water is the minimum!
4. Try a support group. There are various groups
around dedicated to specific caregiver needs. Some are devoted to a particular
illness such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s . Others are more generic and can be
of general support and information. People who attend these groups, which
usually meet once a month, are a wealth of information on taking care of your
loved one…and yourself. You can find these through Associations related to the
illness involved or through the Area Agency on Aging’s 24 hours a day HELP LINE
5. Hire a Professional Coach. When you feel you have
exhausted the goodwill of family and friends, yet need someone to listen, bounce
ideas off of or gain perspective, consider talking to a professional trained in
these skills. A Professional Coach can help you focus on the positive aspects
of your life, while understanding the demands your Caregiver situation places on
you. How to find balance in your life, how to deal with the guilt you may feel,
the shifting emotions and the many other questions that plague you in your new
6. Organize your life. Sometimes it’s necessary to
take time out to just “clean up” the mess and start a new system for managing
your files, your activities , your life. We know that a real catharsis is
cleaning out our closets. When everything else seems so chaotic, we can feel
some sense of control by doing this simple task. The same can be true with the
other aspects of our lives. Whether it’s the kitchen drawers or our office or
A simple way to get started is to get a file cabinet or
drawer and fill it with hanging folders. Label each file with a category…
unpaid bills, receipts, shopping lists, doctor reports, etc. Anything in the
piles on the desk or in the drawers should be placed in a file dedicated to an
appropriate category. Next get a day planner. There are many out there…find
one that works for you. It may be a sophisticated paper system, a palm pilot
for the techies, or just a desk calendar that has room for appointments and To
Do lists. Mainly, find a system that organizes and helps you keep schedules
visible. Then use it.
7. Delegate out what you can. In my coaching
practice, I advise clients to use the 4-D Decision Making Model from
Coach University: Do it. Dump it. Defer it (with a deadline). or Delegate
it. If you decide that a task or activity must be done, then you need to
decide when it needs to be done. If it can be deferred, what is the timing to
bring it back for action? Then you need to decide who will do it. If you do
not really need to do it yourself, then by all means delegate it!
Delegating has many benefits.
The obvious one is you don’t have to devote your time to
doing ‘it’. Delegating to children is a way to teach responsibility or a new
skill, or a way to let them take part as an active member of the family. Other
relations may also be able to help out. Delegating can also be a form of hiring
out – outsourcing for fee. These may take the form of a bookkeeper,
housecleaner, adult or child daycare, errands runner, dog walker, or even driver
for miscellaneous appointments for the loved one such as hair, shopping, etc.
There are many more ways that Caregivers can learn to support
themselves as they do the noble task of Caregiving for their loved ones. As
people live longer through the miracles of healthcare, we shall find more and
more people taking on this role. There is great satisfaction in being able to help the ones you love. And, there
are skills you need to learn to do the “job” as well as take care of yourself.
I urge you to seek out support and learn from those who have found ways to
cope better – for the sake of yourself and your loved ones.
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