Caregiving can be a full-time job, but some caregivers have full-time jobs already. So how do they balance both? The answer for most people is—not easily.
A significant percentage of caregivers end up reducing their work hours or even stopping their work altogether because the combination is difficult to maintain over the long haul, and caregiving is a long haul. On average, caregivers spend four years tending to their loved ones, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, although 15 percent of caregivers spend more than a decade providing care.
If you are one of the caregivers struggling to balance work and your loved one’s needs, you may feel like you’re constantly multitasking and coming up short. Caregiving can be a 24/7 commitment fraught with emergencies with little time for breaks and recuperation. Consequently, stress, anxiety, and depression are common in caregivers.
Even if you’re able to continue working, your loved one’s challenges may invade work hours, as you call the doctor to schedule appointments or do internet research on how to install a ramp because the three stairs into the house have suddenly become a menace. This work problem actually has its own name—presenteeism, which means being physically at work while doing caregiving or some other non-work-related task. Unfortunately, sometimes, caregiving requires presenteeism, but over time, employers may find themselves frustrated by this fact, which may evolve into an end to your job.
So what can you do to avoid this result? There are only so many hours in a day, and there’s only one of you. Your loved one needs you, but you also need your job. Here are some ideas:
1) Get Help
It may seem obvious, but caregivers often forget that they can and should ask for help. Many caregivers are the worker bees in a family. They organize events and get things done. Caregiving may require that system to evolve. Their caregiving responsibilities may have grown over time to be unmanageable, and help is the best way to cut them back to a reasonable level. Can any family or friends step up and take on certain tasks? Could a paid caregiver take up the slack? Is there a senior center or other support organization in your area where your loved one might hang out for part of each day? Often, there are many people ready to help, but it requires the caregiver to accept that they can’t do it all and to ask for help. So reach out for what you need, and welcome assistance into your life.
2) Emergencies Vs. Long-term Realities
Sometimes a caregiving crisis comes on suddenly, and caregivers imagine that it will go away just as suddenly if they can power through. They’re not wrong. If a loved one needs emergency surgery and the timetable for them to heal is a few months, many caregivers can manage stress and overwork for that length of time. However, often the caregiving responsibilities don’t go away and instead worsen over time. When my husband, Don, suffered a debilitating stroke that left him paralyzed from the neck down, at first we both hoped that his health would improve so that he could resume at least some of his normal activities. That never happened, and for almost seven years, I was his caregiver. I had to eventually accept the situation, which allowed me the mental space to rebalance my commitments and reconsider my caregiving choices. Caregiving became more manageable, and we were both able to better enjoy the time we had left together.
3) Give Yourself a Break
You’re doing the best you can in a supremely challenging situation. Caregiving is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment, time, and acceptance of multiple things that we would prefer not to accept. Trying to handle a job on top of that can be overwhelming. So find a way to get time to settle your mind and rejuvenate your soul. Go for a walk. Write down your troubles in a journal. Vent to a friend (without feeling any guilt). These types of breaks are essential. Even staring out the window and watching a bird flit among the trees can re-center you. Once you can breathe again, you’ll be able to have more clarity as you make the difficult decisions that caregiving requires.
No matter what choices you make, they may not always feel good, but that’s normal. Sometimes things don’t feel good, especially when they involve challenging health situations, and yet sometimes there’s wonderful blessings hidden amongst these same difficult times. I treasure the closeness that I developed with my husband during my years as his caregiver. It helped us both realize how much we loved each other, and I wouldn’t trade those years away for anything.
Thank you for reading, please share with a friend, and be well! —KK
Please consider making a donation to the Kathi Koll Foundation so you can help make a difference in struggling family caregivers’ lives. Thank you!
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