Providing care for a parent or senior loved one can be all-consuming. The average family caregiver spends 24.4 hours per week providing care for loved ones and “nearly 1 in 4 caregivers spend 41 hours or more per week providing care,” according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. With all of this time spent tending to the needs of others, how do caregivers possibly carve out the critically important time for themselves that is necessary for them to remain happy and healthy?
Finding Time for Friendship
According to Pam Orzeck, coordinator of Leading Practices in Caregiving Issues at CSSS Cavendish and a sessional lecturer at the McGill University School of Social Work, this is a question that caregivers are faced with every day. Many family caregivers reveal that they are guilty of prioritizing “their loved ones’ health and care needs over their own.” This mentality often results in the loss of identity and loss of self for a caregiver.
With the heavy demands of providing full-time care for a parent or senior loved one, how do caregivers find the time to practice healthy self-care, including maintaining friendships? Here are three ways caregivers can find the time to foster healthy friendships:
Be a good friend.
As any caregiver knows, caring for a loved one is a full-time job. When you are so wrapped up in the intensity of your own life, it can be easy to forget that other people may be struggling as well. Stepping outside of yourself and supporting a friend in need is a great way to gain a different perspective of your own situation, while also feeling good about yourself and your ability to be there for a friend in need. Giving and receiving support are the ebb and flow that makes for fulfilling and lasting friendships.
Leave your caregiving duties at the door.
It is okay to take a break from your caregiving duties in order to focus on yourself. In fact, it is necessary in order to maintain a healthy balance between being a caregiver and also being a person with feelings and needs of your own. Accepting help with your caregiving duties (from other family members, friends and professional respite care providers) is the key to carving out time for yourself. It isn’t just enough to believe in the idea of self-care; in order to ensure you have scheduled time away, you must plan in advance and pencil it in.
During this time away, try your best to leave the stress of being a caregiver at the door – trust that your loved one is being well cared for in your absence and enjoy your break by reinvesting in yourself and your friendships.
Pick up the phone.
Sometimes leaving your loved one, even for a short time away, is not possible. This is especially true when caring for someone with a critical illness or at end-of-life. In times when physically visiting with friends may not be possible, brew a hot cup of coffee, curl up in a relaxing area of your home and pick up the phone. Talking to friends over the phone will allow you to still connect by catching up and sharing joys and hardships, even though you are not in the same room.