The Caregiver. Part 4.

Take a break!
Parts one, two and three were given over to understanding the situation we find ourselves in and the requirements we need to successfully do the job that is upon us. Today we look at the crucial issue of taking a break or dealing with burnout.
Please don’t think I am an expert at this. I am good at sharing more than I practice. I speak to myself on this issue as much as to others. My problem, maybe like you, is that I think I should be able to cope. When you feel healthy you imagine that you can do it but I am told it eventually catches up on you – with tiredness and exhaustion.
In the doctor’s words to me “You must take care of yourself otherwise you will get sick and then who will do the caring?” Naturally she is right. So what do we do? What does respite mean? I find that it can be different things to different people. It means a change, a break, doing something other than the caring responsibilities. It means getting your mind on something else, maybe reading, playing a sport or going to a concert. It could mean a change of venue to enjoy an evening of quietness and rejuvenation.
My wife and I enjoy watching various sports and a few favorite television programs. This is relaxing in itself and at the same time one remains available if needed. I know it means I am still on call but these are down times from the regular chores. It took me a long time to ask for help but I now arrange for visitors for my wife on evenings I might need to go out. I understand that, if possible, there should also be days away. That is more difficult. I am told that a four day break is as good as a three week vacation! To get someone to help for a few hours is easier than a whole day. It is even more difficult to get someone for a few days break, although it is not impossible.
Intelligence tells us that for us to do nothing will take its toll on our physical and emotional health. It is easy not to recognize the adverse effects it is having on our health. Others see what we cannot see in ourselves. If we ignore proper care of ourselves we are in danger of suffering from exhaustion, and ultimately burnout.
You may have already found yourself in a state of fatigue or constantly tired from disturbed nights. The normal stress of life will always be with us but abnormal and constant stress must be avoided. It brings on long term health problems. It has the ability to creep up on us and will then show itself in different ways. It can cause irrational or unwarranted anger or irritability. We can become overly anxious about mundane things and begin worrying about unrealistic things. We can feel down, sad, or worse, depressed. We can react unreasonably to minor issues. It is not uncommon to feel alone and isolated or to feel overwhelmed.
Let’s look at a few practical ways to help us cope. Make contingency plans for various scenarios. We are in a Retirement Community today because of discussions with our family. Involve your family in your plans. They have your best interest at heart. Make short term and long term plans. There has to be a balance between the needs of the cared for and the caregiver. Try to eat well and sleep well, neither of which is a guarantee.
I have reached the point where I try not to go beyond what I can reasonably carry out. If something is too much to handle then I have to be willing to admit it. It is hard but we must not be afraid to ask for help both inside and outside the family. It is surprising to discover some folks are just waiting to help. On a personal note, it is also important to have a confidant, a friend whom you trust and with whom you can confide your feelings and concerns.
Caregivers need support from others. There are caregiver groups which provide the mental and emotional support needed. Help and assistance is available but we might have to make the effort to find the care we need. Finding that help brings confidence and assurance that we are not in this alone. That help could be as close as our telephone. I think I am learning a hard lesson which is, we fail to ask for help to our peril.