From Mini-Meditations to Vacations: Caregivers Need Breaks
Ask family caregivers how much time they have for themselves and you won’t hear a lot about spa days and long getaways. One woman, poet and MacArthur grant recipient Heather McHugh, is making a small but important effort to change that. McHugh used her grant money to start Caregifted, a nonprofit that gives a few vacations each year to full-time family caregivers who have been on the job for a decade or longer without a break. Caregifted and McHugh were recently featured in Reader’s Digest.
Although the Caregifted program serves a small number of caregivers each year, it raises awareness of the millions of Americans who take care of loved ones full time, without pay and often at the expense of their jobs outside the home. Because the stress of day-to-day caregiving and financial pressures can take a toll, breaks are necessary to help caregivers maintain their mental and physical health. If you’re a caregiver, the ideal to is schedule regular breaks for yourself before you feel that you’re worn out or reaching a breaking point. Here are some suggestions on putting self-care into action.
Plan stress-reduction activities
Everyone can use a few little breaks throughout the day. They can be as simple meditating or praying for a couple of minutes, walking around the yard when you need to clear your head, or working on a craft project you find relaxing.
Make time for regular self-care
Self-care includes important but not necessarily relaxing tasks like getting regular medical, dental, and vision exams. You may also want to make time for therapy sessions, support group meetings, or pastoral counseling if caregiving stress or other issues are wearing you down.
Talk with friends, family members, and community groups about care options
You may find that a neighbor or relative is willing to watch your loved one when you need to go to appointments or have lunch with a friend. Or you may learn about paid resources in the community that can help you maintain balance without draining your budget.
Set up respite care services before you need them
Long-term caregivers tend to get sick more often than other people, and everyone needs a longer break from time to time, but finding good caregivers takes time. Give yourself some peace of mind by exploring your options and vetting your backup caregivers now. You can interview home-care agencies, visit senior communities with short-term live-in respite accommodations, and maybe even try out these services before you need them to see how you like them.
Get in the habit of accepting (and asking for) help
It’s tempting to assure your friends and neighbors that you have everything under control, but accepting help when it’s offered can make daily life better for you and your loved one. Think about what you need now so that when someone asks you if there’s anything they can do to help, you’ll have an answer. Some possibilities include:
- Bringing takeout or homemade lunch or dinner
- Picking up prescriptions
- Doing online research that you don’t have time to do
- Calling insurance companies and doctors’ offices to sort out billing issues
- Looking up caregiver programs and resources online
- Walking or grooming your dog
- Sitting with your loved one while you take a hot shower or a nap
- Helping you put up or take down holiday decorations
- Helping you cook a batch of meals to freeze for later