According to one survey, 16% of Americans have been caregivers to another person in the past year. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that this is only one year, and that most people have become an unpaid caregiver to someone at least for a short while throughout their lifetime. Care-giving can be incredibly challenging, both for the one offering and for the one receiving care. Those who undertake this task need to go into it with their eyes wide open, with a well thought-out plan and with an excellent support team.
The caregivers that I'm specifically writing about in this article are those who are providing care for elderly or disabled adults without monetary compensation for themselves. In other words, they are working many long hours without pay. This may seem like a small thing, but the numbers listed on www.caregiveraction.org suggest otherwise. “The value of the services family caregivers provide for "free," when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year.” $375 billion per year! Their work certainly is not without value, they are simply not getting paid for it. The work of a caregiver is grueling at times, even while being incredibly rewarding. But, because of our culture's emphasis on all things monetary, these people who are giving of their lives, time & energy, may not be getting the acknowledgment or support that they need. Below I will list a few things to be aware of and some ways to help avoid burnout for those who find themselves in a care-giving position currently.
First, remember who you are. Sometimes in the daily grind of caring for others, it is easy to forget who we are apart from that. This type of work is physically demanding and terribly exhausting. At times it may seem that there is not time to shower, let alone do something that we once enjoyed. It is, however, terribly important that you hang on to little bits of time with which you can do this. Even if it is 30 minutes that you look forward to to read a book you've been looking forward to or a bit of time to do some baking or painting. Maybe you enjoy nature & could take regular walks to clear your head and breathe again. Whatever it is, be sure that you are taking time to remember what it is that you enjoy and continue doing it & advancing in it. You are filling the roll of a caretaker, but that is not the only part of you. You need to remember who you are apart from that, because that task will not always be before you.
Second, remember to rest. Getting adequate sleep can be challenging if you are caring for someone who does not rest well or is in severe pain. Try as you might, rest might not be an option on a regular basis. So, practice something that new mothers are always told since their newborns will not sleep regularly either. Sleep when they sleep. You may think, “this is impossible, I cannot sleep during the day” or “I have so many other things to get done, there is no way I can do that!” But consider what your temperament and care is after you've gone for a substantial amount of time without sleep. Are you as compassionate and kind? Do your words come out sharp and biting? Rest is fully necessary for each of us, whether we like it or not. You can find someone to do laundry or cook a few freezer meals much more easily than you can find someone to take on the care of you or your loved one. Admit when you are spent and need sleep. Ask for help with other tasks from someone in your support group. Then, go take a nap!
Third, be sure to have adequate support. This is easier said than done, but you cannot do this alone. If you are part of a church or synagogue, it is a good place to start looking for support. If not, find a community of people that care & might be willing to help. Oftentimes in putting yourself out there & talking about what is going on, you will come across others who have already walked that road & who have been caregivers themselves. They are the ones who are most likely to remember and to offer real help in your time of need. If they offer to help, take them up on it! Ask if they could make a meal so that you have a little time to rest or accomplish some other task that only you can do. Ask if they'd be willing to sit with your loved one for a couple of hours so that you can run errands. No matter how stoic and hardworking you are, you need to have a good support system to remain healthy while you are caring or others. Take the help that is offered to you during this time. I promise, you'll have opportunity in the future to “pass it on” wit someone else who needs a bit of support in their care-giving journey.
Last, don't lose heart. The season that you're walking through right now is just that, a season. It had a beginning and it will have an end. Do your best to enjoy the current season, even while looking forward to the next one. Allow yourself to have the feelings that you have, but be careful not to let them rule you, especially in times of weariness. Things always seem to have a brighter outlook after a good cry and a long rest. The one for whom you are caring for is most likely also very weary of their journey. Try to guard against “compassion fatigue” just because you're both walking on a difficult path right now. There is much to hope for, much to be grateful for and many people who are willing to shoulder the load with you. They may not t know specifically how to offer what you need, but sometimes even having someone to talk it out with helps tremendously. Don't lose hope that things will improve. Don't let your love grow cold in the process of caring for others. Rest, ask for help, take a break. Then come back to what you need to do with renewed vigor and purpose!