Care-giving can be and often is a full-time job. While there is often great satisfaction caring for a loved one, some negative outcomes can put the caregiver at great risk as well.
By the time we figure out that God has presented us with a challenge that will last a lifetime, we, as the caregivers, are already well into a routine that others think is going pretty smoothly. I say “going smoothly” because a caregiver eventually develops a routine, one that is usually very exhausting but works. Others think it’s easy because the caregiver is “just doing what needs to be done” and doesn’t have time to ponder how tired or even frustrated they are.
A Walgreen’s ad put it best: “If only caregivers had caregivers.” Yes, the caregivers—supportive, sensitive, caring, available, loving, and tired.
Stress involves feeling responsible for what we cannot control or putting pressure or strain on something. Stress can be good, for example, like going off to college or planning a wedding—activities that excited us—but stress can also be bad as when dealing with difficult in-laws, money problems, divorce, or trying to accomplish too much in a day. Sometimes we get rolling and we don’t even notice we are doing becomes too much or the good stress turns bad, much like driving the highway without realizing we’ve gone from 60 to 80 mph when all of a sudden we see the police car on the side of the road! What we are doing works for us and might even feel comfortable, but at some point we will run out of gas and we’re forced to stop!
What might stop us is a marital relationship falling apart at the seams or our kids showing signs of rebellion because we aren’t taking care of the relationships properly. What has stopped me from time to time is my back going out, or the time I lost huge clumps of hair, leaving a bald spot the size of a tennis ball on the side of my head. In our minds we may think we’ve got it under control, but our bodies may start falling apart, unable to take the pressure we’re putting on them—emotionally or physically.
Of the 60 or so ideas shared in Unexpected Journey: When Special Needs Change Our Course, here are a few ways for caregivers to begin to care for themselves:
- Establishing boundaries with people
- Budget buffer time into the day – allowing time for unexpected delays, planned pressure, emergencies and “life”
- Listen to slow, soothing music rather than fast or loud music
- Get exercise
- Laugh! Laugh hard!
- Cry – Cry hard!
- Enjoy a movie – even if it has to be one you rent when you can’t get out
- Play a game
- Say yes to help
- Seek support from support groups or others in a similar situation
Allow others to help, but don’t wait for others to see that you have a need. When you sense you need a break, find ways in your situation that will allow for it—be creative, look for ways to get refreshed, because if we don’t take good care of ourselves, we can’t take good care of our loved one who needs us!
Joe and Cindi have been married since 1979, have 3 grown children, grandchildren, and enjoy speaking together on topics of marriage, parenting (including special needs), leadership, and time and life management. They have written articles and blogs for Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, Family Matters, and others. Together they authored: Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course.