As a family caregiver, you’ve no doubt been advised that your new year’s resolutions should be to eat healthy, maintain a regular exercise program and get plenty of rest. Those are all excellent resolutions, but when everything around you seems to be falling apart and you are continually upset by the unexpected and unwelcome changes that come with being the family caregiver for someone who is aging, chronically ill or disabled, it doesn’t take long for your resolutions about self-care to fall by the wayside.
The problem with not prioritizing self-care, is that it often leads to family caregivers getting stressed out physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s not unusual to experience anger, guilt and depression while simultaneously developing a variety of stress-related physical ailments.
How can family caregivers keep resolutions about self-care in the new year?
If you have a tremendous amount of will power, it may be possible to make up a list of self-care resolutions and follow them. However, for most of us to be successful, we will need to get comfortable with changing some old patterns of thinking and behavior.
Five steps that can help family caregivers make peace with change & focus on self-care
- ACCEPT – There are a lot of bumps and detours along life’s path. We all have troubles, heartbreaks and setbacks. We all experience pain and disappointment. We can set goals and make plans, but as long as we are breathing, the only thing we can count on absolutely is the fact that things will change. There is a cycle to life. We must accept that we are mortal beings. We will have good times and bad times, and neither will last forever.
- PERMISSION – In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed by caregiver stress, we must learn to give ourselves permission to be less than perfect and to stop doing some of the things we have felt obligated to do in the past. Are you maintaining holiday traditions that create more work than pleasure? Could someone else help with the housework and yard work? Would you benefit from hiring someone to stay with your loved one so you could get some rest? Give yourself permission to take short cuts. Accept that it’s okay to ask for help, and that you have the right to say, “No.”
- PRIORITIZE – As your loved one’s condition progresses, there will be more and more tasks that have to be done. In order to avoid physical and emotional collapse, you will need to prioritize your “To-Do” list. Write down the top three to five things that must be done. At the very top of the list write down at least one thing that would bring you a little pleasure and stress relief. This could be a walk, coffee with a friend, or quiet time for reading, listening to music, meditation or prayer. Then take a look at the remainder of the “To-Do’s.” Decide what items can be turned over to someone else and which ones can be delayed or scratched off completely. Only make the things that are truly important a priority. Let everything else go.
- EXPECTATIONS – We all have expectations of ourselves, of others and assumptions about how our life story will be written. When someone we love gets ill or injured, the life we find ourselves living can look very different from the life we had expected. Making peace with the loss of our plans, goals and hopes for the future is not easy.
You might want to start by being honest about your feelings toward the changes you have already experienced as well as the losses that you expect will occur in the future. Get involved in a support group. Meet with a friend who will listen to you without judgment, or write about your feelings in a journal.
Accept that all of your feelings are legitimate — and then cut yourself a little slack. You will not always be as kind, loving, and supportive as you would like to be. Your loved one will not always behave in a manner that is consistent with who he/she used to be. Some days you will both handle things well, some days you won’t.
If you can adjust your expectations and focus on the abilities and skills your loved one still has, and the pleasures you can still share, rather than all that’s been lost, it may make coping with ongoing losses and change a little less traumatic.
- PREPARED – In order to control how your healthcare and finances will be managed during the final stages of your life, you need to get prepared. As yourself questions such as:
What will you do if your loved one’s needs become greater than your ability to care for him/her?
Do you have your essential end-of-life documents in place?
If something should happen to you, who will take care of your loved one?
Getting your financial and legal affairs in order isn’t fun or easy, but it is one of the best gifts you will ever give to your family. It will make adapting to changes in living arrangements and care needs less stressful. It will eliminate disagreements and emotional meltdowns in hospital corridors over issues like tube feeding and life support, and it could prevent family members from going to war over Grandma’s tea cups or Dad’s tools.
Face 2015 With Confidence
Helping someone we love through the final stages of life is difficult. We have to make a lot of very difficult decisions while simultaneously trying to adjust to ongoing changes. It isn’t easy to adapt to these changes, but we have to accept that trying to preserve who our loved ones were and what our lives were like before we became family caregivers, is as futile as trying to preserve our footsteps in the sand.
We won’t be able to control of most of the changes that will come about in 2015, but we can choose to take care of ourselves so we will have the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength to face whatever comes our way. If we can release our attachment to what used to be and focus on finding something to celebrate in each new day, then regardless of the changes that occur, 2015 could end up being a very good year.