Taking care of aging parents can be rewarding, but it can also make you feel as though you exist more as a sponge than as a human being — always being made to suck it up and take care of other people’s needs before your own.
You’ve probably heard the advice: “if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.” Here are a couple of small steps that encourage relief from caregiver role strain, as a reminder that you deserve to enjoy a balanced, healthy life all your own.
There are times when the stress of caring for loved ones will cause you to think things that you didn’t think you ever would ranging from “I can’t stand you,” to “I’m moving as far away as I possibly can!” When these thoughts arise, it can feel like you’re failing at being a kind, loving caregiver and give way to feelings of guilt. But, these feelings are normal.
Consider participating in a forum where you can talk with other caregivers about the joys and woes of caregiving. Accepting the fleeting nature of your frustrations without guilt or shame can be a huge step toward taking the breaks that are necessary to maintain your emotional and physical well-being.
Asking for Help
When you’re feeling burnt out, it’s important to reach out and accept help wherever and however you can get it. One option to look into is respite care offered by local senior living facilities.
You can arrange for your parent to stay there for a weekend or week and have peace of mind they’re being well cared for. If you’re unable to afford respite care, consider asking family and friends to donate money towards this in lieu of buying gifts on your birthday or during the holidays.
Think about whether there are any church groups, family members, senior centers, or other caregivers who might be able to shoulder some of the burden for you either temporarily or on a regular basis, such as once a week.
Seek out support at whatever capacity you can — even if it means having a neighbor come by for a half hour so that you can take a walk around the block or squeeze in a nap to recharge your batteries.
Get Out of the House
Maintaining your own life outside of your caregiver role is essential; you do NOT have to isolate yourself. Whether it’s a gym routine, book club, or weekend brunch with friends, getting out of the house regularly can go a long way toward keeping your sanity—and stress levels—in check.
But, what about parents that want to be with you 24/7? Sometimes you can explain over and over again that you need some “you” time to refresh, but they may have trouble understanding or even get upset – especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Do not give into feelings of guilt if this happens. In these situations, you need to acknowledge that you won’t be able to change your parent’s reaction. What you CAN change, however, is your own. Once you accept that Mom or Dad may not be happy no matter what, you can begin to let go and emotionally detach from the situation.
There is no one-size-fits-all means of self care for caregivers. What works for one may not work for another. It’s important to be kind and patient to yourself. If you don’t already have a support system, try to build one that will allow you time to recharge and do the things that make you YOU, guilt-free.
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