If you’re a caregiver (or may soon be one), it’s important to take time for self-care and stress relief—while still supporting your loved ones.
When it comes to caregiving for a loved one with a serious illness, preparing for and getting support for your own stress and emotional challenges is vital. Here are six ways to help minimize stress and prepare for the emotional costs of caregiving. In other words, here’s how to avoid caregiver burnout.
1. Be Honest with Yourself
Decide how you’re best able to support the person facing illness. Can you give time, financial assistance, and/or support their families as they receive treatment? Are you able to attend appointments with them, supervise their care at home, or do the hands-on caregiving yourself?
What kind of time commitment are you able to make to assist with a loved one’s care? Will you be able to leave a job for doctor appointments? Can you re-arrange your schedule to be there? Will your employer allow you to take time away from your job to be your loved one’s caregiver?
Has another friend or family member already stepped into the caregiving role? How can you support them? Sometimes handling the smallest tasks, like grocery shopping or delivering some meals, can be a huge weight off the shoulders of a caregiving family member.
2. Identify Other Willing Caregivers
All the people who love the ill person are stressed and grieving in various ways; it’s an incredibly difficult situation. Each concerned friend or family member has a unique relationship with the person who is sick—and each person is able to help in specific ways. So expect some conflict, but try to be patient with everyone. It can be particularly challenging to deal with people who are unwilling or unable to help. Focus on what you can give. Trying to get someone else to change can be a losing battle. Get support from people who can support you through the caregiving journey. Look to extended family and friends—maintain working relationships with those who can help and focus on delegating tasks equally among willing friends and family.
3. Have the Money Talk: Ask to Share Costs
Finding the money to pay for needed medical care is a big source of stress. Reaching out for help for your loved one will help ease the burden off both of you.
Would extended family and friends be willing to contribute financially? Could you set up an online or in-person fundraiser for this person? After my cousin was diagnosed with cancer in winter 2015, her friends planned a fundraiser in her name for that spring. She passed away that Easter and the fundraiser planned for her instead became a memorial to celebrate her life.
4. Attend Caregiver Conferences
When my mother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, attending an Alzheimer’s Community Care conference was a great help to me. Learning more about the disease in a supportive environment (rather than a clinical one) helped me better understand what was happening to my mother. Seeing other caregivers helped, too—I felt lifted up after the conference.
5. Find a Support Group
A weekly support group can be a wonderful place to get advice and even laugh with other caregivers. Strange as it seems, some of the biggest, heartfelt laughs I ever shared have been in caregiver support groups.
6. Don’t Rule Out Hospice
People can go off hospice if they rebound from an illness, but if someone is diagnosed with a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer’s (like my mother) or vascular dementia (like my father) and they need assistance with all the tasks of daily living, such as dressing themselves, eating, and showering, they may be eligible for hospice care.
My mother was eligible for hospice through Medicare for more than five years before she died. A nurse came by once a week and a doctor once a month, and we as caregivers were checked on, too. We also received supplies, such as adult underpants, which get expensive but are needed.
My father has been on hospice for two years now, and in addition to visits from a chaplain and a social worker, I signed him up for a music therapist. We had a wonderful time listening to Christmas carols this past holiday, and the songs could be heard throughout the assisted living center where my father lives.
Remember, Grownups: You’re not alone. Use every resource at your disposal to manage your stress, so you can get back to the important role of caring for your loved ones, and avoid caregiver burnout.
Lucy Lazarony is a freelance writer and journalist living in South Florida. She loves writing articles, blogs and web content that inspire people to live better lives.
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