I’m sure most of us have heard or read about caregiver burnout and how to avoid it, or at least alleviate it. You know, things like take time out for yourself to exercise. Eat healthfully. Get plenty of sleep. Join a support group. Maintain a social life.
Good advice, all, but realistic? Maybe for others, but not for me.
During the nineteen months between my mother’s stroke and death, I barely had enough time to navigate the strange, new world of Mom’s debilitating stroke and aftercare, let alone remember to nurture myself. That took planning, and planning was more work, and Lord knows I didn’t need more of that in my life.
I worked during the day, my husband worked at night, and my children were young and needed my full attention during my parenting shift. My sister lived two hours away, and after our mom’s initial stroke emergency, she only came to visit every two months or so, and I had no other family, let alone friends, to pitch in and provide respite. I’d accrued plenty of vacation days at my job, but those days morphed into “Mom Days” when I would call my mother’s doctors or Legal Aid, or visit various government offices to sort through her social security and Medicaid affairs, to name a few. In between, I spent my spare time in my mother’s room wherever she was, visiting with and caring for her, wishing I could do more for her.
I’ve talked to other caregivers. I’ve read memoirs written by caregivers. And my journey with my mother inspired me to write my own memoir. There is rarely any spare time to pamper ourselves; getting through the routine of the day is difficult enough. And that, my friends, is the reality.
So what’s a caregiver to do? Here’s a short list of things I did, or wished I’d done:
- Gently greet the new day. It may help to set your alarm a little early so you’re not rushed out of a relaxed state. Stretch. Start writing in a journal. Read a book that inspires you. Meditate. Take a long, warm bath instead of a quick shower.
- Take up a hobby or start (or finish) a craft project. I like to knit. I know others prefer to crochet. Sometimes, I lose myself in whatever thoughts are vying for my attention. Sometimes, I pray. Avoid a craft that may cause stress. (For me, that would be sewing.)
- Learn to play a musical instrument, or if you already know how to play something, pick it back up.
- Watch movies. When my mom was in a nursing home, I’d always bring plenty of videos for us to watch together. (“Grumpy Old Men” was our favorite, and Mom and I both laughed until we cried.”) Never watched so many movies in my life, and it definitely provided an escape for a little while.
- Learn to say “No” to the things you don’t want or have time to do, and reserve “Yes” for the things you enjoy.
- Seek out friends or family who are positive and avoid toxic energy whenever you can.
You’re the person holding everything together, so caring for yourself needs to be your number one priority. By tuning in to your own needs, hopefully you can recognize the positive impact you are having on your loved one’s life and appreciate your selflessness. You’re doing the very, very best you can, and you should be proud of yourself.
What are some of the things you do to relieve caregiver burnout?
- The Myth of Caregiver Control – Learning to Let Go and Be Spontaneous (alzheimersspeaks.wordpress.com)
- Personal update: A year after my mother’s death (swapnawrites.wordpress.com)
- In the Beginning (aidingaging.wordpress.com)