For caregivers, the change of seasons is a good time to reevaluate goals and timelines. Being a caregiver is made up of many tasks that need to be done for the patient—but you also have to make sure you and the rest of the family are taken care of as well.
Be sure to ask for help when needed to avoid burnout. As a caregiver, asking for assistance means you have a grasp of the situation and are being proactive with problem-solving. In fact, asking for help is actually a sign of strength as a caregiver.
When you ask for help, be sure to give tasks that are clear, fully explained and have an end. Sometimes overload can kick in, even with those volunteering to help the caregiver, but if they clearly understand the task, chances are they will be more able to complete it. And as you delegate, be sure to break down requests into doable tasks. Remember, taking on a lot of tasks can be overwhelming for others not experienced in caregiving.
It’s also important to make time for yourself. We all deserve time to do low key, non-stress activities that are good for us, and when you carve out this time for yourself, you will return to your tasks with renewed energy and a rested mind and spirit.
What’s a good response when someone says, “Call me if you need me”? Even though we caregivers are drowning in responsibility or are sometimes confused about what the next step ought to be, we often respond with “no thanks” when help is offered. Asking for and accepting help is a complex issue. Obviously, you first need to admit that having some help will make a real difference. Then you need to define what help you need. Which tasks or chores would be the easiest to ask others to do? Which tasks do you really want to do yourself? And which, if any, can you afford to pay others to do? If addressing these questions sounds like more work, know that it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task but rather just a way to organize the thoughts and information you already have.
Recognize that caregiving, like any job, is made up of lots of individual tasks, not all of which hold the same importance. Some tasks take a few minutes; some may take many hours. Some tasks are easy; others require some skill and fortitude. The challenge is to know the difference.
This time of year, many of us will be sending our kids back to school. That can mean additional tasks to keep up with: picking up school supplies, getting the kids to and from school and activities, making lunches each day. Setting up carpools with other parents is a good way to free up time for yourself and those who need extra assistance. Sharing tasks can help free up some time to start on the other things you need to do as a caregiver.
Since September is Pain Awareness Month, accomplishing some advocacy work is also important, but this can be done in very simple ways. Talk to those around you about your loved one’s disease and challenges. Volunteer to speak to your child’s class or help a local school organize a project to raise awareness. If those in the community know the challenges you are facing, they will also be able to help more.
Don’t know where to start? Group your tasks into categories such as personal-care tasks for your loved one, transportation, household chores and school projects. You can group your tasks into just a few broad categories or many specific ones. There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to organizing; it’s all a matter of personal preference. And anytime you face an overwhelming challenge, write it down and decide with your caregiving team how it can be broken down into doable parts.
It’s also a good idea to type out your caregiving worries: Where will we find the money to pay for her medications? Who will care for her if I get sick? Where can I find a daycare facility that provides transportation? Seeing these issues in black and white helps diffuse some of the emotion associated with them. It also allows you to think more rationally about your concerns and understand how getting help with some tasks might lessen your stress. Share your lists with someone you trust before you reach out for help—perhaps a friend, therapist or clergy leader.
Through practice, get comfortable with the idea of talking about your need for assistance; you are likely to get some encouragement and good ideas in the process. Ask someone to help with one of the tasks on your list, or ask for guidance in resolving your most persistent worry. Start with something small, especially if you are looking for hands-on assistance or anything that requires someone doing you a favor. Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected at first. It sometimes takes perseverance.
Remember that the effort is worth it because the goal is better care for your loved one and yourself. Wishing each of you a productive, organized and fun-filled fall season!