Caregivers often feel that no matter where they turn their attention, it is not enough. The care recipient (caree) needs attention. The laundry is piled high (although, at least it has made it to the laundry room). The dogs need to be walked. The husband wants a movie night. The kids need help with their homework and the caregiver wants to go to the bathroom without being called to help with something.
Working caregivers can add to the list: The boss needs a project done – a week earlier than planned.
So many responsibilities will become overwhelming – it is just a matter of time. The first responsibility to go out the window is usually self-care; add the guilt of not feeling “good enough” and caregivers become at risk for their own health problems whether mental or physical.
The working caregiver has one more reason not to take care of themselves: there is always work to be done. It may become so stressful and overwhelming that leaving the workforce becomes an attractive alternative. Justifications begin to pile up: I can get by with less. Who needs a retirement account? Things will work out in the future even if I leave my job now. I deserve to be less tired.
Leaving the workforce is one alternative. However, consider it as a last resort. Not only are there financial consequences (both now and in the future) but health benefits (and other employer sponsored benefits) may be lost or costly to continue. Leaving the workforce may sound appealing but the interaction with others cannot be underestimated. Social isolation is a real concern for caregivers not taking care of themselves.
The working caregiver has already learned flexibility and communication. Using those skills, as well as not being afraid of the words, “no” and “help,” a working caregiver can find time for self-care. These five tips will help stave off physical and mental exhaustion.
- Be kind to yourself. This doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t even require time away. The first step in self-care is to be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Would you tell your employees (or boss) they are not succeeding? Would you tell your children they are not good enough? Would you wish guilt upon your friends? Of course not, so stop treating yourself that way. Treat yourself as kindly as you do others.
- Take a weekend break. Whether it is for an entire weekend or just a few hours, find a respite facility for your caree. You have worked all week and maybe your caree has been to a day program or received in home care while you work. The guilt starts to creep in when considering not caring for the caree on the weekend also. Do this once a month or every few months. It will be refreshing to remember what a weekend without caregiving responsibilities feels like. (Some programs for veterans and the disabled provide respite hours.)
- Take a vacation day (or two). Take a vacation day but don’t go anywhere (and don’t do those extra chores piling up at home). Whether your caree is cared for at home or at a day program, take a vacation day and relax at home or do something you enjoy. Go to a bookstore, a coffee shop, the library, shopping, get a pedicure or a massage. Get lunch out or sit in the quiet of home with a sandwich, cup of tea and watch daytime television. Go to that movie with your husband or walk the dogs! It is amazing how those things don’t seem like another item on the to-do list when it is your choice to do them.
- Take a lunch break. Meal breaks are required for non-exempt employees but are not for exempt employees or the self-employed. It is very tempting for exempt employees to work through lunch and catch up on projects, emails or that rush project that just made it to your desk. After all, we are trying to do as much as we can at work because when we are home we are taking care of someone else. While it may be a relief to get those projects done, it can be equally satisfying to take a real break during the workday. Take a walk with a friend or catch up on personal emails or phone calls.
- Connect with other working caregivers. Chances are there are a few other working caregivers at your place of employment. Create a support group with the other working caregivers and ask to use a conference room during lunch time. Better yet, take lunch outside and talk about caregiving issues, vent or talk about anything but caregiving issues.
The exhaustion of being a working caregiver is not to be ignored. Self-care may seem impossible but it is essential to stop the domino effect of not taking care of oneself.
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