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 changed.
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 602-262-4357.
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 role.
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 our checkbook.
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). orDelegate 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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Connie Wolf, MSOD, PCC is a Professional Certified Coach and Consultant and president of Sounding Board®, a coaching & consulting specialty firm. She specializes in Executive Coaching & Life Coaching for Caregivers. Connie can be reached at 480-607-1960 or her website: www.SoundingBoardCBW.com