As a Caregiver, it can seem like we’re on a never-ending pursuit to find a sense of balance. Juggling the needs of loved ones and our own. Time focused on our work and to our family. Attention given to our children and our aging parents. Often times we stress so much about finding “balance”, that our efforts are what actually is stressing us out more than anything!
But what if balance is just a falsity? An unattainable goal and expectation we put on ourselves that causes more harm than good.
As someone who has a lot on their plate, I’ve always strived for that sense of balance…and honestly, I have always felt like a failure. It’s a perpetual cycle of feeling like you “aren’t enough” because you aren’t able to give 100% to any ONE thing. I mean, think about it…if you were even able to find true “balance” of 50/50 or 25/25/25/25, you’re only giving 50% or 25% of yourself to something. And that’s when the guilt and judgement comes in, especially as a Caregiver.
I challenge each of us to shed our desire for balance all together. To stop beating ourselves up and adding unnecessary pressure to an already overwhelming load that we carry. Instead of dividing our energy among multiple things, lets instead try to commit ALL of our focus to whatever we are currently doing. Let’s strive to be completely present and our best in JUST that moment. 100% Caregiver. 100% Parent. 100% Friend. 100% Employee.
Easier said than done, right? This mindset shift has been something I’ve been working on for the past year or so. Even though it’s been very helpful, I still have to work hard at avoiding the “distraction” of balance. Some things that have helped:
So maybe it’s not “balance” we’re after. Maybe it’s the FEELING that we think it will give us. Relief? Success? Happiness? Fulfillment? Let’s shift our focus to being the best version of ourselves on any given day or any given moment, and it’s THEN that we’ll find what we’re looking for.
Times of uncertainty, like the one we’re in right now, create feelings of fear, panic, anxiety, anger, sadness and a slew of others that can be all thrown into the category of: “Nope, I don’t like this one bit”. All of those emotions are compounded when you’re a Caregiver, because you have two other major components: pressure and guilt…which is pretty much like adding gasoline to the already raging brush fire!
So how do we manage all of these heightened feelings? It starts with looking inward. It takes the same discipline and practice as any other skill you’ve tried to master. The good news? With enough effort and focus, you can re-align your mindset even in the hardest of times to feel healthier and happier. Here’s how:
In times of uncertainty and fear, finding positivity can be so difficult, but it’s essential and takes diligence. How, you might ask? 1. Create a routine – It’s been proven that having a routine can drastically help carry you through a day in which you’re not feeling very positive. Accomplishing your routine (morning ritual, daily prayer, exercise, etc.) will naturally give you a boost! 2. Start a gratitude journal – write down a few things that you’re grateful for every day (hey look, here’s a routine!). Being grateful isn’t about ignoring realities, it’s about taking the spotlight from shining on the negatives, to the daily positives in your life. Try to remember that everything happens for you, not to you. This is sometimes hard to do, but if you can make a mindset shift, you will find yourself over time seeking out positive things and situations, rather than negative ones.
According to Helen Riess, M.D., “Self-awareness means recognizing your own emotions. Before springing into action, you must first assess your own mental state so you can manage them.” It’s understanding your tendencies, patterns and feelings so you can work through them and even better, anticipate them coming. Sounds great, right? It is….but it aint always pretty. It means admitting truths about yourself and your habits. We suggest starting with a personality test to get a better, non-biased snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses. Our favorite is The Enneagram. Check out www.enneagraminstitute.com
When we’re vulnerable, we are in a state of being open or exposed and this offers up the possibility of judgement or attack. But in your authentic state, you’re naturally more at ease. In the words of Brene Brown, “(this) is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave and kind. And let’s choose each other.”
Which leads us to empathy. In times of uncertainty, empathy is critical to staying calm, steady and decisive…and all are such important traits, especially for Caregivers. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. During times of crisis, people just want to be “seen”, and it’s important that we take time to try and understand individuals and where they are coming from. Not only does this help us realize that we are all more similar than different, it also allows us to have self-empathy and give ourselves the grace we need.
From our family to yours, we’re sending love, light and strength!
Whether it’s because of limited mobility, illness or the recent fears stemming from the Coronavirus, many Seniors find themselves isolated at home. Social isolation can many times lead to deterioration of both physical and mental health, so it’s important as Caregivers that we are giving our loved onesactivities at home to keep them engaged.
Below are some ideas:
Start a Book Club
Organize a book club and invite your loved one, friends and family to join. You select a new book each month and participants read and then get together to discuss it. If your oved one is homebound, the gathering can be at their house to accommodate. If necessary, you can set up a group conference call or video chat instead.
Create an Indoor Garden
Bring the outdoors inside! This encourages working on fine motor skills and will naturally create joy. It’s hard not to look at a blooming flower and not smile! Growing vegetables, or other edible plants like herbs and then eating them gives a sense of purpose and success.
Have Game Nights
Your loved one will get social interaction and brain stimulation which is so important for Seniors! Having a weekly or monthly scheduled game-night gives them something to look forward to and a light hearted gathering.
Subscribe to a Monthly DIY Club
There are some great crafting/DIY membership boxes available. A new one is delivered monthly and give you all the supplies and instructions to assemble. This offers great mental stimulation, a chance to work on fine motor skills and a feeling of accomplishment. Our favorite: We Craft Box Senior www.wecraftboxsenior.com
Learn About New Technology
Seniors who are not tech-savvy can often feel left behind. Create a weekly or monthly “technology class” for them where you show them how to use a new piece of tech. Ideas: Internet (set up their email, show them how to use Google to search a favorite topic), Alexa (show them how to get info on demand, play their favorite song or find a podcast), Smart TV (new options like Netflix or Youtube gives them variety)
Set-Up a Video Chat
Show them how to Facetime, Skype, or Portal by Facebook to video chat. This allows them to see and interact with family and friends from the comfort and safety of their home.
At-Home Exercise videos
There are many Senior exercise options like chair yoga and stretching that can be on a DVD or as a streaming service. This improves balance and we all know how impactful just 30 min. of daily exercise can be for Seniors.
One of the most overwhelming parts of being a Caregiver is staying organized. You’re juggling so many balls and keeping them all in the air can sometimes feel impossible. We all know that writing things down helps, but the next thing you know you have sticky notes all over the house, a stack of disorganized To-Do lists, a journal you can’t find and 3 different calendars trying to keep all the family appointments straight! Or is that just me?….
Enter the Bullet Journal. This method of organizing consolidates all the lists, calendars and journals into one place and has been a game changer for me. But the best part is that its 100% customizable to exactly what YOU need and want to track. It becomes an extension of both your brain and personality as you make it your own. Below are the basics of what the Bullet Journal system is and some tips on getting started:
What’s A Bullet Journal?
Creator Ryder Carroll refers to the bullet journal as a “mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system”. Even though you customize it to your needs, there are certain components that stay consistent and help with organizing. At the end of the day, it’s about having a place where you can take things out of your head and put them into a place you can use the information. You start with a blank notebook and have:
1. An Index aka a table of contents
Once you put page numbers on your journal, this makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.
2. A Future Log aka a yearly overview
This is an overview of the year where you list all of the months and their important dates, birthdays, big appointments, activities etc.
3. Monthly Logs aka monthly calendar
This allows you do get more detailed about the events, tasks and happenings of the month.
4. Daily Logs aka daily To-Do’s and journal
This is where you list your daily tasks and To-Do’s but also where you log what happened during the day. This section serves as both your daily agenda AND your journal to be able to remember important things that happened or ideas
5. Collections aka lists & trackers
You know the 200 sticky notes, scraps of papers and lists you have floating around? The collections part of the bullet journal is a way of having all of them in one place where you keep them organized. Ideas for collections: gratitude journal; track exercise, water or weight loss; plan an upcoming vacation; write down blog or social media post ideas; meal plans….
Depending on your ability or desire, Bullet Journals can be colorful, artistic and witty. Or if you’re like me, it’s black and white and to the point!
How To Get Started:
The Bullet Journal is a very easy system, but understanding the basics and the “whys” behind the set-up is important. To get started I suggest:
1. Buy The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
Ryder is the creator of the Bullet Journal and having this foundation is key to success
2. Get a dotted grid journal
This allows for the freedom to set up your pages in the most efficient way for YOU
3. Get some inspiration online
Check out Pinterest or Google and search “Bullet Journal ideas”…you’re welcome!
If you’re overwhelmed as a family Caregiver and not even a Bullet Journal can help, reach out to us and lets come up with a gameplan and get you the support you need!
Images: @productivedoodling @feli.noel_bujo
As a specialist in caregiver stress, I see LOTS of caregivers struggling with burnout. They often tell me that they are struggling with mild anxiety and depression, but they don’t understand why. I hear things like “I’ve never been so stressed out before. I’ve always been in control of my emotions. I’ve always had a handle on things. Now I can’t seem to get a grip! Everything overwhelms me!”
What these caregivers are struggling with, often for the first time in their lives, are the effects of chronic stress – also known as burnout. Burnout is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude -- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.”
In addition to the financial and physical stress associated with being a caregiver, there are several emotional factors that can easily lead to burnout. Caregivers may be so preoccupied with the care of their loved one(s) that they don’t attend to their own needs until they reach a point of emotional and physical exhaustion.
The signs and symptoms of burnout often include:
If several of these signs and symptoms seem all too familiar to you, it’s probably time to make some changes to your routine. Let’s talk about ways you can shift your mindset about caregiving and ease the burden on yourself:
First and foremost, preventing burnout involves being committed to your own self-care. This means allowing yourself the time and space to be “off duty”. Take more time for your own self-care, such as socializing with friends, exercise and physical activity, alone time, engaging in hobbies, and going on small excursions. Engage the services of loved ones, friends or professional caregivers to ease the burden on you. You may also consider respite care in an Assisted Living or Long-Term Care Facility to give yourself “a vacation”.
There are several federal, state, and county programs that can provide assistance with the cost of placing a loved one or getting professional care in home. But often, most caregivers struggle with the guilt of asking family and friends for help, getting professional help in the home, or especially with placement in a facility.
Knowing when it is appropriate to place your loved one in a facility (Assisted Living or Skilled Nursing) is crucial for minimizing burnout. Placement of a loved one is a decision often fraught with a lot of conflicting emotions, such as guilt, grief, and sadness. Recognizing one’s own limitations as a caregiver and the signs / symptoms of burnout can make this decision easier. Loving someone and being totally responsible for someone are two very different things.
Lastly, there is no shame in recognizing that you are in over your head. Requesting the help of a mental health professional or caregiver expert can often result in rapid and sustained improvements in mood, anxiety, and quality of life – for both the caregiver and their loved one!
About the Author:
Angelo Domingo, Psy.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist who has a passion for Caregivers. He has a private practice in Sarasota, FL where he helps patients and their loved ones using a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral, Compassion-Focused and Interpersonal Therapies. He facilitates several support groups as well, including one at Parkinson Place the 3rd Thursday of each month 11am-12:30.
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Elli is the President of Sunways and loves spending time outside with her family, and is passionate about cooking and holistic health.