"To everything, there is a season… ", though often it comes when we least expect it. One day, we live our lives as a friend, companion, spouse, or child, and the next day we find ourselves filling the role of caregiver. Neither party chooses nor expects this to be the situation, but life throws curveballs, and we step up to the plate when we need to. As with any significant change in life, there is a learning curve that comes along with it. Being well equipped can help us take on new challenges, though it never fully prepares us for what's to come. However, through trial and error, love and grace, and lots of patience and consistency, we can find ourselves successfully filling the new role in our lives. If you're stepping into this position for the first time, here are a few tips to help you confidently emerge into your role as a caregiver or caretaker.
The goal here is two-fold! First, maintain your current relationships that existed before you added your new role as a caregiver. This provides you with the consistency and stability that you depend on every day. Stay in touch with those essential in your life who have always been there to help you navigate your daily highs and lows. Chances are, these are the same people who will also help you overcome any challenges you meet as a caregiver.
Secondly, build a support system with others who fulfill the caregiver role. This can be achieved through support groups, either in person or online. Being part of a community of caregivers will help you feel less alone and provide you with others who have similar experiences. They can be a wealth of knowledge and understanding, rooting you on and helping you through challenging times. Many resources are also available through churches and community services, helping to provide hot meals, transportation, housekeeping, and home health services.
Take Care of Yourself
It's easy to lose sight of your health when your primary focus becomes someone else's health. However, it is imperative to ensure that you continue to eat well, exercise regularly, and routinely attend annual appointments or other doctor visits. Your physical and mental health set the stage for your overall well-being. Carving out some time for self-care allows you to reduce the possibility of anxiety, depression, and stress, along with wearing yourself down and experiencing burnout.
Establish a Routine
Getting organized and establishing a daily routine is beneficial for both the caregiver and receiver. Expectations are clearly defined and easily prioritized when adhering to a daily schedule. Keeping a calendar of events and appointments helps to ensure that no critical commitments are overlooked or overbooked. Using the alerts or reminder features on your phone serves as a wonderful reminder of upcoming events.
Family and friends usually have the best of intentions when they say, "let me know how I can help!" Often we miss out on extra assistance because we are too overwhelmed to direct them to the areas where help is most needed. Understanding your own needs allows you to delegate help as needed. It's beneficial to keep a list of errands, appointments, chores, and other tasks that need to be completed. This way, when someone offers their help, you can easily take out your list and provide a way for them to serve you.
Allow yourself "free time" without associated feelings of shame or guilt. Schedule time where a sitter or a "stand-in'' can be with your loved one, and you can be alone. During this time, do something that fulfills you-- whether it's getting out for a walk, going for a manicure, playing a round of golf, or sitting down with a hot cup of coffee. If you're able to, have a standing date and time where you can refuel yourself or plan it, as needed, if that works best for you.
Show Yourself Grace
There will be times where you feel like you're falling short, there will be days where you struggle in your role as a caregiver, and there will be moments where you feel overwhelmed and defeated and resentful and guilty. Allow yourself to feel these feelings and then forgive yourself fully. It's perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions; sharing these feelings with someone you trust or writing them down in a journal can be therapeutic and healing.
Keep Learning and Growing
Like any skill, it is important to keep learning and growing to sharpen your craft. It is vital to keep studying the nuances and details of senior care to become the most confident caregiver possible. Do you know the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia and how to implement the best caregiving practices for each? Do you know the difference between personal care and companion care? As you grow as a caregiver, you will become more secure in your role as a support anchor for those in need.