The extra responsibilities associated with taking care of someone can be heavy, and other people in your life may not appreciate all that you’re doing. In fact, they may not fully realize the actual scope of your contributions or how much mental, emotional, and physical energy is required from you as a caregiver. Regardless of how strong you may be now or how in control of your life you may think you are, it takes a good support system to be a good caregiver, especially if it is going to be a long-term situation. Sure, you can take on all of the responsibilities and do it on your own for a while, but eventually it will catch up to you.
Perhaps your ego is getting in the way of asking for help. Maybe you’re worried about what others will think. Maybe you don’t want anyone to think you are weak or can’t handle it. Or it may be that your care recipient doesn’t want to accept help from anyone other than you. However, if you are caregiving beyond your capabilities, over time it will wear you down, and it will not be a healthy situation for you or for your care recipient.
Reaching out for help can be one of the toughest parts for many caregivers, as well as the most important when it comes to preserving your own mental, emotional, and physical wellness while on your caregiving journey. Removing our egos from the equation and realizing we cannot do this alone, and should not do it alone, is a healthy starting point. Reaching out is not a weakness. In fact, I would suggest NOT reaching out is the weakness. When you muster the courage to ask for help, and once others know what you need help with (specific tasks), you will likely find that most are willing to assist you and your loved one. You may think it’s wrong to put your responsibilities on someone else, but just think of the satisfaction you have felt when you were able to help someone in need, and you genuinely wanted to. Then look at the flip side and think of how it felt when you genuinely wanted to help someone and they wouldn’t accept your help. Don’t rob people of their opportunity to be there for you in your times of need, since it usually gives them great pleasure, especially if they can help in ways that tap into their own areas of strength and expertise. For example, if your sister is a great cook, perhaps she can take over responsibility for cooking and delivering a few meals. If Uncle Joe loves driving, perhaps he can take over driving to out-of-town appointments. In a caregiving situation recently recounted to me, a caregiver reached out to her brothers for help, and although they did not feel capable of providing direct care, both offered to pay a monthly amount for some professional home care services. She felt good about this arrangement, and they were also happy to be able to make a contribution that didn’t involve bathing and toileting their father. I understand that not everyone can resolve their caregiving situation with money. Perhaps there is no extra money in the pot, but there are certainly people in your corner willing to pitch in.
Learning to ask for help and saying YES when help is offered will make your caregiving journey so much easier in the long run. So, if you are going to be in this for the long haul, you will need to develop a plan and set yourself up for a more positive caregiving experience. There will still be bumps on the road, but you will be in a much better position to handle them if you are taking good care of yourself by getting support and making sure your own needs are being met. Here are 5 ways you can do this:
- Enlisting Help
Get a few of your close family members and/or friends together, to look at your caregiving responsibilities. Honestly discuss the impact your caregiving role is having on you and ask for help. Perhaps you are thinking this is my daughter or my husband, and I am solely responsible for caring for them, but trust me when I say that the full load of caregiver responsibilities can be intense and can put you at very high-risk for burnout.
- Develop a Care Plan
While meeting with close family and friends, develop a plan that outlines your loved one’s care needs and determines who is willing to contribute to meeting those needs. Before the end of this planning meeting, create a schedule and clear expectations about who will be doing what. Be specific and include the task, which days it will be completed, and by who. Make a copy for everyone, and barring emergencies, stick to the care plan. Allow others to contribute and see if you can a more equal distribution of the responsibilities, or at least set yourself up with several secondary caregivers to assist with your loved one’s needs.
- Say Yes to Help That is Offered
Keep the list of tasks that remain your responsibility close by in the event someone else asks if or how they can help. When someone asks how they can help, instead of saying, “I’m fine, I’ve got this,” thank them for asking and show them the list of duties they could help with. Ask if there is something on the list that interests them and if it’s something they could pitch in with on a regular basis.
- Be Specific
People may shy away if they don’t really know what you‘re asking of them, but if you give them a specific task, one they feel comfortable with, they will likely be happy to help.
- Tap into Community Resources
Once you have a care plan in place, take the time to really look at what other resources might be available if and when you and/or your care recipient need them. Call your local caregiving associations or organizations that provide care and ask if there are programs and resources that could help you. Remember, too much support is better than not enough.
It is easy to become overwhelmed as a caregiver, and taking an honest look at your caregiving role and responsibilities is an important first step in getting back on track. Setting realistic expectations and accepting help can go a long way in keeping you healthy and well on your caregiving journey. Take the time to identify all of the secondary caregivers, including anyone who is checking in, asking questions, and showing concern. Make a list of all of the resources available in your community and examine whether there are additional resources you haven’t tapped into yet. Putting this work in at the front end might seem like too much effort, but this is what will save you in the long run. It is a huge mistake to forget about yourself and what you want and need. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give a loved one is to show them you are still able to enjoy your life to the fullest while caring for them.