Help for Holidays: What Expert Caregivers Do Differently (part 4)

Here is the last instalment in this four-part holiday series, and just like the rest,  an important lesson for any caregiver, any time of year.

Difference #4: Don’t Ignore Your Own Comfort and Stress Level

Generally, every community or family caregiver is constantly looking for ways to better manage/comfort/understand the one they care for.

Caregivers invest their own time, money, and creativity into their sick relative or friend, but often neglect themselves. Caregivers don’t¬†necessarily realize or fully acknowledge their own self-neglect, furthermore, many¬†feel so overwhelmed that self-neglect can almost feel like a necessary part of the caregiving duty.

Self-neglect can almost feel like a necessary part of the caregiving duty.

In my therapeutic practice I’ve witnessed intense resistance to the simplest suggestion of self-care, and¬†I’ve watched more than one caregiver¬†take offense to this idea.

The family caregivers who don’t end up desperately burnt out, sick, and depressed (or the ones who make it back from the burnout)¬†learn to find time for themselves. They learn to face and manage their grief, guilt, and doubt.¬†¬†Facing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can¬†greatly increase emotional resilience, and decrease a good amount of stress that comes with self-criticism and doubt.

How?

Experienced caregivers learn to ask for, and accept help without hovering or criticizing the helper. Stepping back from the caregiver role can be difficult, but offers necessary breathing room for the caregiver.

Facing the internal struggle can be a bit more difficult for all of us.

Group and one-on-one therapy focused on exploring the impact of caregiving on the caregiver can aid in the understanding and acceptance of change, loss, fear and doubt.

Seeking out a professional may¬†help with the complicated and¬†prolonged¬†grieving process, and diffuse the all too familiar anxiety producing unknowns. A professional¬†may help take the caregivers life off of ¬†‘pause,’ and reconnect them with their own boundaries, needs, and coping mechanisms.

Caregiver groups can be very helpful as well. Especially during and after transitional periods when changes to care may be necessary. (ie. noticeable physical or cognitive decline; hospitalization; move to assisted living, or after household accidents/safety scares)

During transitional periods, all caregivers question the decisions they make, especially when the demented person cannot participate, or is resistant to the treatment changes that must take place.

Maintaining pleasurable activities with your family and friends is very important. And, as mentioned before in previous posts, facing the sadness and guilt that may arise during fun activities can become an important part of maintaining those types of activities.

The experienced caregiver has probably found reliable support, both professional and among family and friends. They have engaged in self-care, allow themselves vacations, time off, they date, they work, they exercise, they have fun.  They find balance. This takes time and requires the uncomfortable task of facing the grief and guilt associated with caregiving.

It is not impossible! An experienced caregiver will tell you so.

Happy holidays everyone. I hope this series has helped guide your caring for a loved one, and giving you some ideas on caring for yourself.

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