By Denise M. Brown
Family caregivers are ringing in the New Year after going through the wringer these past few years. Our uncertain days mean we regularly pivot care plans to find new solutions and patch together help to keep our carees safe — all while we manage our career and our family responsibilities.
In October, LifeStation released its first-ever Positive Aging Quotient. The research, which surveyed over 900 Americans over the age of 55 who are current or future caregivers of an older adult, examined the impacts of caregiving responsibilities on everyday life from work to mental health.
What really stood out to me was that 97% of current caregivers feel it is at least moderately important to plan ahead for another disruptive event. Sometimes, our day can feel like an on-going disruptive event.
At the start of this new year, let’s resolve to reflect on our own needs so when disruptive events – whether major or minor – take place, we can be intentional about doing what’s best for both ourselves and our caree.
I’ve compiled 10 prompts for our reflections:
- Review your caregiving documents and plans. How well do your plans reflect the current caregiving situation? Caregiving intensifies over time, so our plans, decisions and documents change, too. Take a look at the advance directives, the legal documents, the budget, the emergency plans and the care plans. Then, talk out what needs to be updated with your caree, caree’s health care team and other family members. You might also think about incorporating a medical alert device into your caree’s long-term care plan.
- Stay energized. What gives you energy? Certainly, our food choices and our work-out routine matter when it comes to our energy. It’s just as important to prioritize our rest. We do so much every day that we can simply wear out. We can make regular rest an energizing habit.
- Delegate some of the drudgery. You might wonder to whom you can delegate. Consider: Who seems to be watching you do the work? If your kids watch you (even as they hold their phones) shovel snow, clean up after dinner and fold the laundry, then delegate to your kids. If your siblings watch you manage your parent’s care needs during family get-togethers, then give your siblings tasks that lighten your load.
- Use your time wisely. What takes up too much time for you right now? Perhaps you spend too much time answering the same questions over and over from your siblings about your caree’s status. You can streamline the communication by sending an update email or text every Saturday morning.
- Stretch yourself. Which goal can you set to achieve by year’s end? A project can be starting a garden, de-cluttering the house or redecorating a room. As you consider projects, ask: What can I do to improve my space and make it a better place to unwind?
- Get support for your challenges. What helps you when you feel challenged? During our caregiving experience, we may feel challenged by the decisions we face, the conversations we have and the responsibilities we manage. We’re managing during really tough times. LifeStation’s research found that 25% of survey respondents use a therapist or caregiving coach to help manage difficult discussions. Reach out to receive the support that helps you manage the challenges before they simply overwhelm you.
- Create strategies for your difficult days. What helps you cope? We may be tempted to just power through these difficult days because we don’t feel like we have time for a support group meeting or for morning journaling or evening meditation. You have to fill up your own cup before you can fill others, so take the time to cope with all that happens in your day.
- Keep who and what you love a priority. Who and what do you love? Because we give so much time to managing our caree’s needs, we may think we don’t have time for our needs. Before we know it, we have a life full of our caregiving experiences and without enough quality of life for ourselves. Stay connected to who and what you love as often and as much as you can.
- Connect to your values so you maintain your priorities. What gives you purpose and meaning? A caregiving experience can give your life meaning. According to LifeStation’s research, 39% of respondents feel their bond with their caree has gotten stronger. We also need a purpose beyond our role of family caregiver. Take time to better understand your values which can guide your priorities. For instance, if you value creativity, your time spent painting should be a priority for you.
- Give yourself peace of mind. What gives you peace? Consider the words you can say, the actions you can take, and the decisions you can make that help you sleep better.
- Visualize your future. What dreams do you have for your future? Give yourself permission to daydream about your next week, year, decade. Where do you want to travel? What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to be? These visualizations in our mind’s eye can reduce our stress while creating possibilities of what our future can be.
With the start of our New Year, we can review, reflect and revise. A strong start to the year can ensure a good ending in 12 months.
About the Author
Denise began helping family caregivers in 1990 and currently develops personal development and leadership training programs for them. She began helping her parents in 2004 after her father’s bladder cancer diagnosis.