Over the course of human history, life expectancy has nearly tripled. While living longer lives is certainly something to be cherished, it has also created a significant uptick in the number of older adults requiring care of one form or another – care that is often provided by their adult children.
Taking care of an elderly parent can be a very rewarding experience, but when factored into life’s many other daily demands, it can be exhausting – both physically and emotionally. More than a third of family caregivers rate their job as emotionally stressful, and nearly one in five experience a high level of physical strain, according to this AARP report.
While many new caregivers feel they can roll up their sleeves and enthusiastically soldier through their responsibilities, not having a plan to handle work, family tasks and making time for self-care can lead to caregiver burnout, depression and health problems. Here are some tips to help you maintain a better balance of work, caregiving and personal life.
How to manage caregiving responsibilities
The first step to managing your caregiving is to be objective about all of the specific tasks and responsibilities you truly have, and then reach out to as many family members and friends as you can to ask for help. Here are some ways to make this a little easier
- Build a support team – Create a contact list with email and phone numbers for all family and friends that can help.
- Make a task list – Write down all of your caregiver responsibilities, organizing them by daily, weekly and monthly tasks. Make this list concise but also comprehensive – you might be surprised at how quickly those smaller tasks can add up. Divide your list into what can be done in the home (meals, housekeeping, personal care) vs. outside (grocery shopping, special errands, doctor appointments). Try to combine outside activities as best you can to consolidate travel time.
- Share the list – Make a copy of this list for your support team and be specific about the tasks you need their help with the most. There are several on-line schedulers that may make this easier to both compile your list and share with others. Be flexible and offer options that make it easier for everyone to pitch in. If someone can’t contribute their time, perhaps they can contribute funds to help cover costs to occasionally hire a professional caregiver or transportation service when you aren’t available or simply need a break.
- Answer questions – Some members of your support team may have questions about medications or mobility issues. Others may be uncomfortable with tasks like dressing or bathing. Ask everybody if they have any questions or concerns and address them as best you can.
How to make more time for yourself
Once you’ve got a handle on your caregiving tasks and secured help from family and friends, here are some additional ways to make more time for yourself:
- Preemptive steps – Whether you’re caring for your parent in their home or yours, make the home safe to help prevent falls or other injuries that could create additional caregiver responsibilities if overlooked. Also, be mindful of how social isolation and loneliness in older adults can create situations that make providing care more challenging – learn the warning signs and what you can do to help.
- Find outside care – There are many local and national organizations that provide both paid and volunteer respite-care services. A good place to start your search is the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Explore short-term stays at senior living communities in your area – they provide you with a break and allow your parent to experience the personal care, amenities, meals and events that community life offers.
- Just say no – There is only so much time in the day, so don’t overcommit. Fulfilling obligations with family and friends is important, but so is taking time to relax and rejuvenate. It’s okay to politely decline an invitation with simple regrets or, if you like, send a small gift or bottle of wine for others to enjoy in your absence.
- Unplug – Making more time for yourself starts with limiting distractions, so turn off your email and avoid the endless scrolling on social media – it will all be waiting for you tomorrow.
- Relax – Sounds easy enough, but it’s easy to lose yourself in your day without taking a breath. Whether it’s sitting down with a good book, spending time in the garden, yoga, meditation or simple breathing exercises, it’s important to unwind. Even if you have a crazy busy schedule, devote at least five minutes of the day to something you love that brings you value and joy.
- Connect – Whether it’s a phone call, coffee date or an evening out, spending time with family and friends outside of your caregiving responsibilities can help relieve stress and recharge you for the day ahead.
How to lower your stress
When you’re stressed, you are more likely to sleep poorly, tire easily and be irritable with others, including those you are caring for – but you can help manage stress by modifying your behavior. Getting more sleep increases your capacity for patience. Getting more exercise releases endorphins that reduce feelings of anxiousness and depression.
Here are a few ways to reduce stress and increase the calm in your day:
- Breathe – Sit quietly and comfortably and breathe deeply while you count your breaths from 1 to 10. Repeat this while remaining focused on the moment. It’s natural for your mind to drift, but still your thoughts and do your best to stay focused on the moment. Doing this for even a few minutes each day can relieve stress.
- Visualize – If just sitting and breathing makes you feel too awkward, try doing it while picturing a relaxing scene. Maybe it’s lying on the beach or gently floating through a cool tropical forest. Visualizing peaceful scenes while you do your deep breathing takes you on a mental vacation of sorts, which helps rejuvenate your mind.
- Get out – If you need a more active way to relax, try a walking meditation. This is similar to a neighborhood stroll, but with deliberate deep breathing while being focused on everything you are experiencing in the moment – the smells of the grass, the rustling of the trees, the barking of a distant dog. Immersing yourself deeply in each moment of your walk will leave you feeling more refreshed and buoyant when you get home.
- Creative mindfulness – Whether it’s painting, coloring, strumming a guitar, gardening, working a puzzle or raking a sandy Zen garden, being engaged in a creative outlet has a calming effect that can make you feel renewed and more at ease.
- Exercise – Walking the dog, cycling classes, yoga – nothing gets those endorphins pumping better than exercise. Solo is fine, but having a partner or joining a group at the fitness center can make workouts more fun.
We’re always here to help
As a leader in the industry, Atria Senior Living is happy to share our expertise and offer any support we can – even if the support you need is from someone other than us. We can call on our trusted relationships with other senior living organizations and resources to put you in touch with the best solution for you and your family. Whether you are considering a short-term stay or simply need advice, please reach out to your local Atria community director today and they’ll be happy to help in any way they can.