By Jan Bruce
According to Caregiving in the U.S.--a 2015 report conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP--the typical nonprofessional American caregiver spends more than 24 hours each week caring for a family member while holding down a full-time job outside the home.
That's a big job--and one that caregivers do, for the most part, free of charge. November is National Caregivers Month, making this a perfect time to recognize the tremendous role caregivers play in supporting our aging and disabled population.
It's no surprise that caregivers are more stressed, given the number of issues they must contend with on a daily basis. In fact, the Caregiving in the U.S. report found that 38 percent of caregivers rate themselves as highly stressed.
Even if you undertake the caregiver role willingly and you find meaning in it, the job will drain you of emotional and physical energy -- unless you take intentional steps to keep burnout at bay.
Here are three ways resilient caregivers handle common caregiving stressors.
1. They Don't Put Off Their Own Check-Ups
The most resilient caregivers know that they can't help someone if they're not being cared for themselves--and that means addressing issues before they get out of control. Perhaps you're having digestive problems or you have a feeling your blood pressure medication needs an adjustment. Take a cue from the most resilient caregivers and make time for your health.
You think: There's no way I can get to the doctor right now. Mom needs me, and she's much sicker than I am. She comes first.
Swap the thought: This is self-neglect and it's starting to hurt me. I have been overextending myself lately. Who can I ask to step in and care for mom next week while I visit the doctor?
2. They Don't Try to Do It All
A mindful caregiver knows that she can't do everything, as much as she wishes she could. No one can--and that's ok. After all, you're not only helping with meal preparation and transportation, but also medical tasks--such as shots, tube feedings, and trips to the bathroom--and managing your loved one's social life, exercise routine, and finances.
You think: Even though I'm exhausted, my loved one is more comfortable with me handling these intimate tasks than a stranger. I need to do it all for her sake.
Swap the thought: I know my strengths and limitations. Some of these complex medical tasks and financial problems are above me. Someone else might have more creativity and patience in going through an exercise routine. A trained professional would do this in a way that serves Mom better. What agencies are available to help us?
3. They Make Time for Joy
The caregivers who are able to keep going find joy in their work--because they make sure they cultivate that joy elsewhere. That means having and maintaining connections outside of their obligations. Maybe you haven't seen your friends in months. You can't remember the last time you enjoyed a leisurely meal with your spouse. You long to get to your weekly yoga class or running club but it's just too hard to make it.
You think: I'll get back to the activities I love when Dad is doing better. Now is not the time to focus on myself.
Swap the thought: If I don't boost my energy now, I will totally deplete myself and be of no use to anyone. I need a healthy outlet to blow off steam. What can I do purely for myself this week?
As a caregiver, your responsibilities are huge, and they aren't going away. A resilient approach to unavoidable strain and stress puts you in a better position to care for yourself, for your health--and for your loved one.