When we first become caregivers or when there’s a new emergency, we go into super hero mode. You know what I mean: you do it all, without stopping, at the same time.
Nothing can stop you, until you can’t keep it up. It’s unsustainable. You can only suck it up and forge ahead for so long before you’ll burn out.
You’re burning out
The problem is, even super heroes aren’t super heroes around the clock, day in and day out.
Taking care of someone else all the time without a break leads to anger, resentment, and sheer exhaustion. You can’t think clearly. You snap at people. You can’t connect with people. You’re so anxious you can’t sleep. You’re miserable.
You know what they need. Do you know what you need?
Take a minute to ask yourself: What are you missing? What do you have? The more specific the better.
Most of us have a few coping methods we cling to, often from childhood. They may or may not be right for the challenges caregiving presents. Caregiving is often presenting new challenges, all on top of each other. You’ll need a whole arsenal of coping methods to make it through in one piece.
Think about what you really need. What specific things are getting to you the most?
Of the things that are getting you down, which ones could possibly be changed? Even a little?
Fight decision fatigue
Caregivers get stuck with a lot of responsibility. So many of the choices we face have no good answer, leading to immense guilt and anxiety.
Decision fatigue is a real thing, and it’s exhausting. Do yourself a favor and eliminate any decisions that don’t matter. Patterns, habits, and rituals are great for this.
- Grab a few things from your closet that all match each other and fit you. Ignore the rest of your clothes and rotate these.
- Eat the same things every week. Stick with one simple grocery list. If you can, get them delivered automatically…or from a neighbor who’s going to the store anyway.
- Schedule appointments at the same times as much as possible.
- Schedule times to make phone calls, do paperwork, and other chores.
The less you have to think about chores and things that don’t really matter, the more time you can think about the things that do.
Get back control
Sure, we’re making decisions all day, but it doesn’t feel like we’re in control at all, does it?
What makes your life feel out of control? What can you do to feel like you’re back at the steering wheel?
Is someone demanding help constantly when they could really wait an hour? Set up ground rules for requests.
Is the unknowing of a lack of diagnosis driving you to your wits end? Turn to meditation or faith to learn to accept the unknown.
Has your life become a random series of chores? Set up a routine and stick with it as much as possible. Everyone works better when they’re following a routine.
Remember that caregiving is a choice. Perhaps it seems outlandish to imagine being able to walk away, but you could. What would it take? What would make you do it? Every moment you’re taking care of someone else is a moment you’re choosing to do so. You’re doing it because you want to be here, even if it’s hard.
Get in touch with you
You’re a human. Humans make mistakes, say the wrong things, and let people down. You’re going to lose your patience. That’s okay. We all do. Remember that. Other people probably have unrealistic expectations of what you should do. Let them, but remember there are limits to what you can do. You’re already going above and beyond.
Find a way to remember how proud you are of yourself. Maybe it’s journaling, a gratitude jar, or just thinking about it as you brush your teeth. A daily moment of reflection doesn’t have to be involved to be meaningful.
As a human, you still need to have an identity besides being a caregiver. Even if you barely have time for the other pieces of yourself, make that tiny bit of time. People who only take care of other people 100% of the time end up bitter, angry, and empty. This is your life, too.
You’re spending a lot of time thinking about someone else’s physical needs. Lots of caregivers neglect their own — and then die before the person they’re caring for, or become so ill they need a caregiver themselves. Stay in touch with your body, too. Go for a walk, even if it’s short. Don’t skip meals. There are lots of little tricks to stay healthy, even when things are hectic. Other caregivers are happy to share them with you.
You’ve cut out a lot of things in your life to be a caregiver. Surely there’s something caregiving related you can cut back on to make some time for yourself.
When you’re in super hero mode, everything that’s non-essential falls away. Friends and other relationships tend to get cut.
It’s fine to neglect your friends for a little bit, but in the long term it has huge consequences — for your physical and mental health.
Maybe you don’t have time to go out, but there’s always time for a quick text. Things like Facebook can help you stay involved, even if you don’t see someone regularly. It’s also a great way to let people know you could really use some company.
Adrienne found she didn’t want to talk to her old friends about caregiving. She wanted to keep her friendships as a bubble of her old, normal life. Instead, she wanted to talk to other caregivers, who better understood what she was going through. So she created this community.
It’s true — your friends might not understand what you’re going through. Those long hours in waiting rooms and hospital cafeterias are an opportunity to meet new people who get it.
But don’t let go of your old friends. Even if they’re awkward around you now, remember they have their own struggles. Invite them over for coffee, even if your house is a mess and you’re stressed out. Write them an email. Ask how they’re going and listen. You need them.
Know your strengths
None of us are good at everything.
Some of us are just not good at keeping track of bills and insurance paperwork.
Some of us have limits to our patience with other peoples emotional needs and poor behavior.
Some of us aren’t very good drivers.
You’re going to do a lot of things, but you can’t do everything. You shouldn’t do everything. Identify the things you just aren’t your strengths and find help with them.
Who will help? Social workers, librarians, and faith communities are a great start. There are community organizations that will help you with your taxes, provide free transportation, do your yard work, and provide companionship for your caree. Every community has different services, but someone you know can help you find help in your area. You can’t do this alone. And you don’t have to.
This is one of those times when Facebook can really help. Ask for something specific and you’ll have better luck.
If you’re providing 100% of the care and not sharing the burden, if something happens to you, whoever steps into your shoes will be lost. It’s not good to be irreplaceable. Other people will do things differently. They’ll be annoying to deal with. They’ll disappoint you. But it’s still worth it to get help.
People don’t feel good when they can’t contribute. Is there something your caree can do to help you? Ask them to do it. Everyone has something to give — and they feel better when they have the opportunity to share it.
Know what you need
It’s incredibly difficult to know what we need. What will make us happy? People have been studying that for millennia.
When you know what you need, you’re half way to solving the problem. Identifying a need means you can find ways to meet that need…or learn to accept that it’s going to be unmet.
Not getting what you need leads to resentment. Resentful caregivers are not good caregivers, no matter how hard they try.
The thing is, no amount of self-care will allow you to be a 24/7 caregiver for a decade without burning out. Sometimes you need a real break — a vacation from caregiving.
Lots of us are taking care of people we love. We don’t want to go on vacation without them. That’s fine. Bringing in a professional caregiver — or a cleaner, handyman, personal assistant — can free you up to have quality time with the person you love. Rather than focusing just on caring for them, you can really be with them.