Caregiving is full of never-ending lists of things to do and tasks to accomplish for yourself, your caree and your family. The stress from caregiving can lead to health issues such as a higher risk for chronic illness, a weakened immune system and depression and anxiety.
What can you do to reduce the stress? I’ve pulled together a list of my 10 favorite tools for caregivers to either help you lighten your load or relax.
- Develop a System: Organization should be your first step in caregiving. Whether you create a schedule on the wall, use a paper planner or use an electronic calendar or app on your phone, keeping your schedule and contacts organized will be your first step in keeping your caregiving and personal lives together. Be sure to include contact information for doctors and service providers so that you don’t have to look them up each time you need to do something. In addition to an organized schedule, you may want to consider creating a medical binder to have your caree’s information at your fingertips.
- Use Your Time Wisely: Are there things you can knock off your to do list during spare moments or downtime? Can you work on your grocery list while waiting in line at the bank or make your to do list while waiting in the dentist’s office? Can you call your long-distance family with caregiving updates while you’re driving home from work (using Bluetooth of course!)? What can you do to make the most of your spare minutes? If you haven’t been following my three minute series, I have activities that you can do in three minutes, from cleaning to self-care.
- Never Have Empty Hands: I live in a small home so I don’t have to go far to get from the living room to my bedroom. I once read a time management tip that suggested never leaving a room with empty hands. If you’re going to the bathroom, can you take fresh towels from the linen closet to refresh the room? If you’re walking to the bedroom, take the shoes sitting by the door or the book you want to read later. If you’re in your room, take the water glass next to your bed back to the kitchen. Rather than spending hours putting your house back together on a Saturday, move things throughout the day. Your home will feel slightly more organized. Bonus tip – have a drop zone/basket near the door for things that you need for errands such as library books to return, shopping bags or clothes for the dry cleaner. That way you don’t need to hunt for them when you are rushing out the door.
- Outsource When You Can: Managing two households is extremely difficult. I can barely keep one house running. If you or your caree has the means, outsourcing some tasks can take things off your plate so that you can spend your time doing the things you prefer to do. Is your parent having a difficult time keeping his/her house clean? Hire a weekly or biweekly cleaning service to do the big jobs. Do you or your parent have a difficult time getting meals on the table? Consider one of the many meal prep services or even schedule take out into your weekly meal rotation. Is there someone who can take your parent to the grocery store or to run errands? Using a service or hiring a driver can reduce the amount of time you are running around. Make a list of the activities you do on a regular basis that are simple to outsource.
- Use Technology: Can you set up online reminders so that your brain doesn’t have to do all of the remembering? Can you communicate with doctors or service providers via email or text? Email will allow you to reach out during the off hours when you have downtime.
- Reach Out/Use Your Resources: Don’t do it all yourself. You can enlist the help of other families, your community or even local resources like your senior center. Just like it takes a village to raise a family, it takes a village to care for an aging parent.
- Practice Self-Care: If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for others. It’s that simple. Whether you have a lot of time or almost no time, you need to take time for yourself so that you don’t experience burnout or experience a decline in your health.
- Let Go Of What You Can: As a type A person, I know how difficult this one can be. I want to do everything, perfectly, myself. No one is a superhero. We all need help and not everything can be perfect always. If you are dealing with a particularly busy or stressful time, it’s OK to eat more take out or not clean the house as frequently as you’d like. Give yourself permission to let go and just do the best you can do today. On that note, life doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you can’t go to the gym, you can still walk around the block.
- Plan Ahead: You can’t always plan for a crisis, but whenever possible, having your game plan set up ahead will make a busy time less chaotic. If you don’t work on a weekend, take some time to get yourself ready for the week so that on a busy day, you don’t have to rush around. Prep a few dinners, plan your wardrobe, put your parent’s medication in in pill distributor. Do whatever you can do ahead of time to reduce in-the-moment rushing.
- Stay Positive: Sometimes when we’re in the midst of busy-ness and chaos, we can get frustrated. Particularly if we are caring for others and not caring for ourselves. It can be easy to get angry and frustrated with your situation. Acknowledge that you are in a busy stage of life and your current life is stressful and challenging, but remember that this too shall pass. Years from now, you will be happy that you were able to spend so much time with your parent and you will miss the chaos of having children demanding your time. Try to focus on the positive parts of your life when times are tough to make them more bearable. For me, I’ve been in a multi-month health flare that makes it difficult for me to accomplish everything I’d like to accomplish. For the moment, I’m trying to focus on the fact that I have a lot of love in my life, rather than the fact that my body isn’t cooperating with me.
Do you have tactics that help you manage your caregiving role?