What if we viewed caregiving as a project, or as a business? Caregivers would tackle the many responsibilities in a methodical way, encouraging the help of others to carry out the tasks for which they are best suited or for which they have time.
Caregiving involves performing many tasks. In order to effectively coordinate all of them, it is necessary to put into practice organizational skills, time management, clear communication (both verbal and written), the ability to prioritize and to re-direct your course of action at a moment’s notice. Approaching caregiving with these tools in hand would certainly reduce the stresses and frustrations that come with the job.
What does a caregiver really need?
Repeatedly, the immediate answer has been time and hands-on help. A day is simply not long enough to do all that needs to be done. This is often the case in many other roles, so why should it be different for caregivers? Equally, when others “jobs” become too large for one person to complete successfully, other people usually get involved. We hear about “team members” working in stores, about a sense of unity at Google, and about collaboration within a community toward a goal that benefits everyone (such as the “green” movement, recycling or helping the needy). Couldn’t we see caregiving as a similar situation?
If caregivers and non-caregivers alike regarded caregiving as an opportunity to contribute to the care and well-being of our loved ones, the need for time and help would become a less urgent issue. With more relatives and friends chipping in, family caregivers would then have time to take care of their own health, to incorporate some of their hobbies or interests into their routine, and to stay socially active. All of these are important ingredients for the success of a family caregiver.
Just like people need certain nutrients to stay healthy and strong, so do family caregivers.
What are a Family Caregiver’s “Minimum Daily Requirements”?
- Sleep – uninterrupted 6-7 hours each night.
- Nutritious meals – smaller, more frequent ones are ok.
- Physical activity – get up every 30-60 minutes; walk, dance, stretch, run, bike, exercise, yoga…just move about for 5 minutes minimum. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day.
- Social time – call, email, Skype, Face Time, write lettrs to a friend or relative, post something on Facebook or on Twitter, invite someone to your home.
- A break from caregiving – get busy with a hobby or learn something new, read something of interest to you. The idea is for your brain to see something different beside what it does every day. Short mental and emotional breaks refresh and motivate so you can continue performing well.
- Appreciation and gratitude – taking time to notice even the small and simple things can help us to see the good in the world when we are surrounded by suffering or negativity. They can consume a caregiver and taint his/her outlook. A cool breeze, the hush of a snowfall, a hug, sharing time with a special someone…Be mindful of them and the quiet joy they bring you. ”Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” they say. Don’t let it go unnoticed!
- Positivity– Remember that while caregiving inevitably carries some negativity (after all, it’s not a good thing that caregiving is needed to begin with!), caregivers will do well by balancing it with a positive outlook. As caregivers, we have to look very hard sometimes to find the smallest iota of good in our situation, but the smallest will do! We must keep in mind that tomorrow, or the next hour, may bring something better. This does not mean that caregivers will cure or fix their loved one’s ailments. It means that they will find a way to comfort their caree’s and to show them kindness and respect. It means that caregivers can feel proud of their efforts to care for another with dignity and compassion.
- Humor -Family caregivers need a good dose daily! Remember those trying moments from our teen years or as a new parent? Looking back, many of them are not as serious as they seemed when we were in the middle of the situation. We may even laugh about them now!
- Perspective – Seeing things from our caree’s point of view. This is crucial for family caregivers, because only then will they grasp what it’s like to live with their caree’s condition. In order to do this, caregivers need to learn as much as they can about the illness. Is your Senior’s combative reluctance to cooperate with a task pure defiance, or is it that he/she does not understand your instructions and is feeling confused and fearful? If your caree has Dementia, chances are that he/she no longer comprehends your words even though he/she agrees with you. Once caregivers understand the disease or disability better, he/she can find a way to deal with it. The result will be a reduction in stress for both caregiver and caree!
- Relaxation – Another must-have for caregivers! Once a schedule is set and work/tasks are organized, the daily agenda needs to include some down-time. If you don’t schedule it, chances are you won’t have time for it. Even 10 minutes at a time several times a day will do a world of good for your physical and emotional wellness.
- Support of family & friends – Knowing that you are not alone and that you can turn to them for help or just to vent makes the responsibility of caregiving somewhat lighter. This is a very important daily requirement that, alone, can make or break a family caregiver.
If you are not already doing the above, try to add one to your agenda every couple of days. Don’t stress if you cannot, but do make a concerted effort to include all of them sooner rather than later. And if you read this and laugh because you see absolutely no way to add this to your day, then at least you’ve already done #8!