4 Survival Tips for all Family Caregivers

When you think of family caregiving which words come to mind? 

 

Burden

Stressful

Sad

Depressing

Exhausting

Frustrating

 

Honour/devotion

Meaningful

Blessing

Joyful

Humour

Fulfilling

 

What creates the difference between the first column experience and the second column?  How can family caregiving be both frustrating but joyful, a burden and a blessing?

 

 

Here are 4 survival tips to take your family caregiving experience away from the first column and into the second column.

 

1. Take care of yourself

It may sound trite, but self-care is crucial.  If you don’t care for yourself, you’ll have nothing left over to give to anyone else.  You need to allow yourself time to refuel. How you re-energize will be unique to you; there is no right or wrong answer.  Maybe you exercise, or take a warm bath, or play an instrument, or read a book.  It doesn’t matter what you choose to do; it matters that you take time for yourself and prioritize your own self-care.

 

2. Allow yourself to be "off-duty"

It is not reasonable to expect yourself—or anyone else for that matter—to work or be on-call 24/7. And yet, when in the midst of family caregiving, people often hold themselves to an unrealistic standard of doing it all, all of the time. You need time when you are not “on-call”.

 

This includes elderly spouses who have assumed the caregiver role and who live together. It can be tough for the caregiving partner to feel “off-duty” when they are at home together with their partner who requires care. Respite care is critical to help both halves of a couple remain healthy—both physically and mentally. 

 

Feeling “off-duty” also applies to family members who are receiving constant phone calls from their elderly loved ones.  They need time when they can turn off the ringer and not field any phone calls—a timeframe when they are “off-duty” from repeated calls.

 

3. Enlist support before a crisis emerges

All too often people will say: “Dad won’t accept help from anyone else, so I have no choice!”  Then a crisis occurs and it is Dad who has no choice—he must accept help from another source because you, the family caregiver, are now experiencing your own health issue related to burnout.  Sure enough, Dad does accept the help, although it might have been a smoother introduction to care had it not been a crisis situation.

 

It will be a kinder transition for your father to accept outside support in a graduated care plan, rather than abruptly. With advance notice and the luxury of time, caregivers can be selected to match your father’s personality and preferences. In a crisis situation, you might have no choice but to get a caregiver—any caregiver—in place the same day.  A more ideal match could have been made with advance planning.

 

Best of all, your burnout can be prevented in the first place! It is far easier to prevent burnout by providing support early on than it is to recover after burnout has occurred. 

 

4. Protect family roles and relationships

Caregiving can upset the long-ingrained roles and family dynamics.  A husband who is suddenly thrust into the position of caring for his wife may feel ill-equipped for the role of the family caregiver. He doesn’t feel like a husband. . . he feels like a caregiver.  And she doesn’t feel like a wife. . . she feels like a patient. Their interaction as husband and wife has been interrupted and they begin to interact as patient and caregiver, which may start to stress their marriage.

 

It is important that key family roles and relationships are preserved. That couple needs to continue to feel like a married couple.  A parent and child need to preserve their mother-son relationship.  It may be best to let certain elements be provided by a professional caregiver so the family relationships can remain intact. 

 

Family caregivers are SO important to the health and well-being of their loved ones.  It is crucial that their health and sanity are protected.  If the family caregiver burns out, then there are two people requiring care! 

 

The only way to survive family caregiving and find the positive is to take care of yourself, have time that you are "off-duty", get help in place before it's too late, and aim to protect family roles and relationships for as long as possible. 

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It’s no secret that the holiday season has become increasingly stressful this year for several reasons. In the midst of all the wild events happening in our world, there's still this pressure to orchestrate a picture-perfect holiday dinner.  As we all scroll on Pinterest boards for inspiration, we adding more tasks to our to-do lists for the perfect Instagram worthy Christmas party.

 

While some people may enjoy making detailed desserts that look like a Martha Stewart display or the hours of Christmas shopping, many others find it stressful. According to the mental health charity called, Mind, at least 1 in 10 people struggle to cope with the pressure of having the "perfect Christmas."

 

I am sure if you ask your grandparents what Christmas used to be like, I’ll bet they would tell you a different story.  If they were of the generation that lived through the depression era, you can be certain that there was very little—if any—Christmas shopping to be done.

 

Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

 

Let's take a pause, a breath and reflect on what matters the most. This holiday season doesn't have to be stressful, you can change that by adopting these three tips inspired by our elders.  

 

1. Priortize Quality Time

Focus was on being together with loved ones and participating in activities together. Rather than rushing around trying to have everything in perfect order, focus on doing fun things together as a family. You can play board games, share funny stories around the dining room table, bake homemade goods together, watch funny and heartfelt Christmas movies, and so on. 

 

2. Simplicity is key

Decorations were much simpler years ago! Popcorn was strung and used as a garland hung outside for the birds to enjoy. Fruit featured prominently in décor—orange peels were used creatively as little baskets, or peels were dried and cut into shapes. These simple traditions are low-cost and allow everyone to focus on quality time together, rather than stressing about fancy décor.

 

3. Take a breath and slow down

Perhaps this year you can slow down the pace of the holiday season by practicing the art of saying no. You don't have to do it all, you don't have to host a family dinner again, and most of all it doesn't have to be picture perfect. Be present, slow down, and enjoy the everyday moments. Enjoy your fresh cup of coffee an extra five minutes, read your favourite book in the evening snuggled in a warm blanket, cuddle your furry friend, or whatever helps you to slow down from the holiday rush. 

 

What I've learned from our clients is that there's something special about holiday traditions. Maybe it's time to slow down and revert to some time-honoured traditions from your grandparents’ era.

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