The unexpected journey of caring
Unexpected family caregiving is a whole new life experience, and it brings a wide range of responsibilities and emotions you have never encountered before. To survive it, to be efficient and truly helpful, you need to learn a few things down the road.
Caring for family members is simply a part of family life. But, caregiving is another level of it. When someone in the family becomes sick and unable to care for themselves, regular caring becomes caregiving, and it brings plenty of new duties. We usually have no other choice – it is what it is, and we must face it, embrace it and keep doing whatever is necessary the best we can. Although in many places we do have government institutions and services to support families in need, the critical role of family caregivers is irreplaceable. That is why the family caregivers are staples of our societies for centuries, and they keep being that in modern times.
What you need to pay attention to in caregiving
If you already are a caregiver, we know there is a lot on your plate right now, and it’s good to be reminded from time to time to slow down and don’t forget about yourself too. If you are just about to become one, here are a few things you must keep in mind to be prepared for the role and this journey of caring.
- Frustration can be managed: You have to learn that sometimes the circumstances can be above you and that the full control is not entirely possible no matter how we try. You probably have an idea of what you want to accomplish, whether it’s a longer-term plan or a simple daily routine. It is normal to feel frustrated when your goal is not achieved or the things don’t turn the way you planned. For your well-being and the good of the others around you, you need to learn how to manage the emotions you feel at those difficult times. Try to look at the problem from another angle, see the different sides of it, and maybe find another strategy on how to deal with it. When you feel your emotions are just too much to handle, you can try some of the various coping methods recommended by mental health professionals. Some are easy to do, inexpensive and you don’t need anything additional, just your will. Try with music, reading, gardening, an old or new hobby, breathing exercises, meditation, or physical exercises that fit your abilities. There are so many options, and indeed you can find something that works well for you, and that would help you vent out when you need it.
- Autonomy is necessary: We are all our own persons, and personal autonomy is vital to everyone. It means having control and choice over one’s life. Sometimes the circumstances can alter that, especially in caregiving. Both sides can suffer the conflict – the care recipients and the care providers as well. Losing independence because of the sickness or aging can be frustrating, and it’s closely related to the sense of self-dignity. What a caregiver sees as a compassionate interference with best intentions, the care recipient may see as a personal attack, and you can expect stubbornness and resistance. This can cause tension, and make the care activities harder than necessary. If you are a caregiver of adults, try to understand their position and to keep them involved in everything as much and as long as it is possible. Don’t forget they still have preferences, opinions and rights. If your care recipient is too young, and you are making all the decisions anyway, remember there is a little person there who needs to learn something, so try to give them some choices to decide about when the situation allows it. Also, the autonomy of a caregiver can be an issue too. It is common for caregivers to completely dedicate themselves to the care recipients so much that they neglect themselves. On the other hand, it is usually expected from them to be at service all the time, and it is forgotten that they still have needs too. It’s an inner conflict – the guilt that you are not doing enough and the need to take a break. As a caregiver, try to keep your autonomy and don’t lose sight of yourself and your needs.
- Learning is helpful: Educate yourself and get prepared. Nowadays, it’s so much easier to get relevant information and useful advice. Learn about the condition of the person you are taking care of from trusted sources. See what you can expect and what you can do. Ask your health care providers for more information. You can also join the organizations associated with the condition. Search social media related to caregiving or specifically to the conditions you are dealing with – a lot of people are going through the same, or they’ve been there, so learn from their experiences.
- Keep the legal affairs in order: Depending on your circumstances, you might need to educate yourself regarding legal matters and have them in order, because you may have to act as a representative of your cared one. Keep the important documents in a safe place, and be sure you have the authority to speak in the other’s name as a guardian if the situation arises and you need to make some decisions.
- Asking for help is not weak: Some people find it hard to ask for help, especially when they think it will make them look weak or it will bother others. Even superheroes need assistance! Learning to accept help early in your transition to being a family caregiver will make it easier down the road. Even the little things can mean a lot. For example, having someone help with household chores can be an opportunity to socialize as well as get things done. Don’t be ashamed to ask for support whenever you need it – more people are willing to help than you may think. Some will enjoy it and feel grateful to you for thinking they could be a helping hand.
- Self-care is crucial: Taking care of yourself is as important as taking care of someone else. It’s essential to prioritize your overall health and well-being because you could no longer help others if you’re not feeling well yourself. This is one of the most important aspects of caregiving, and you need to learn how to prevent a burnout many caregivers face. You simply must take care of yourself: eat properly, sleep enough, take care of your health too, have some alone time just for yourself, for a hobby or whatever relaxes you from the accumulated stress. Do go out sometimes, see other people, change the environment, recharge – even a short walk can be enough. And don’t forget to talk, even if you are not an extrovert and used to talk about your deep feelings openly! Keeping all locked in your heart can be exhausting, and an occasional release of it will ease your burden.
As caregiving can often feel overwhelming, you need to master finding a balance between helping with what you know you can do and knowing when it exceeds your limits, and you need help from others. Give yourself the time to adjust to this unexpected new journey and your new routines. You will have good days, bad days, overwhelming days, too tired days, I’m fantastic days, I can’t go on days. And every day you will still show up. You are capable of overcoming so much more than you think. It may seem a lot but just think how amazing you are for helping someone in need and for changing other people’s lives. Trust us – it’s all worth it!