A spouse suffering from a chronic disease, a child with a physical or mental disability or aging parents- there comes a time when we find ourselves taking care of a loved one at home. While this may be the right thing to do and one we approach with much emotion and earnestness, it certainly isn’t an easy thing to do. Caregiving is not something that most of us are trained for and it brings with it many unexpected challenges.
The first step is to understand and accept your role as the caregiver- the amount of time, physical and mental effort or financial contribution you may need to make. Keeping a practical approach rather than an emotional one will help you start off with a realistic picture. Caregiving can often be long and lonely, not unlike a marathon- so pace yourself well. Make sure you carve time for yourself and your needs so that you don’t fall victim to resentment later. It is not uncommon for long term caregivers to feel frustration, anger and helplessness at their own situation, because devoting time to another human often means putting aside (at least temporarily) one’s own needs and aspirations.
Once you have established your routine in the caretaker’s role and what is expected of you on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, it is best to quickly find any and all manner of support that you can. This is especially important if you are doing long distance caregiving. While being a brave heart and handling all kinds of support single-handedly may seem like the right thing to do, or even the only choice at first, you will find that your loved one will do better overall if you enlist the support of other family members, neighbors, family-friends and healthcare professionals. Today non-traditional help comes from apps that come to your assistance by helping your loved one and you keep track of medicines, appointments etc. Whether it be providing meals, getting doctor’s appointments, helping with bills or just giving company to your loved one, sharing caregiving duties not only gives your loved one an opportunity to keep up a social life, it also prevents you from having a burnout.
Despite best intentions and sincere efforts, caregiving can sometimes be both mentally and physically exhausting. Just as they tell you on the airplane to don your oxygen mask first before helping another in an emergency, so it is with caregiving. Make sure you eat healthy meals, get enough sleep and take time to exercise regularly. Talk to a friend or a family member not just to share your worries and anxieties but also to laugh and decompress. Start a mental relaxation routine as well. This could be a religious or spiritual practice, learning art or music, solving puzzles, starting a daily blog about something of interest to you- anything to take your mind off of your worries about your loved one.
Being able to empathize with another and taking care of someone in need is what makes us human. When done with compassion for the other as well for self, caretaking can be an enriching and positive experience of a lifetime.