Caregiving often becomes all-consuming. It has a way of taking over your life, packing your schedule and leaving its mark in every room of your home. The kitchen counter becomes a make-shift medicine cabinet, durable medical equipment takes over the bathroom, and medical bills and doctor’s appointment reminders litter the desk. Soon, the relatively tidy home you kept pre-caregiving is cluttered with evidence of a loved one’s declining health. Combine that with the stress and ever-growing responsibility of managing their care and any thought of personal space becomes a thing of the past.
Making the time for respite is one thing, but finding a quiet, clean spot in your own home where you can decompress is a challenge for far too many caregivers. Even in the most pristine multigenerational home, there are always little reminders of looming responsibilities and lingering tasks yet to be done.
Emma Dickison, president of Home Helpers Home Care, learned about caregiving at a young age. When she was in high school, her grandmother came to live with her family after suffering a stroke. In addition to helping care for her grandma, Dickison was the caregiver for both her parents. What she’s learned from her experience is that carving out some time and space for yourself is not just a generic suggestion from support group leaders, doctors and elder care experts. It’s something family caregivers must do.
“When you’re a family caregiver, you look at it as such a huge responsibility,” Dickison admits, “but we all need a break. In the work world, most of us have Saturday and Sunday off to recharge our batteries. Caregivers need time off, too.”
Dickison is blessed with a large extended family which helped care for her loved ones when she and her siblings needed a break. While she realizes not everyone has that luxury, she stresses that taking care of yourself mentally and physically is a critical aspect of caregiving. “No one can do something 24/7 and have it be healthy. You must make time for yourself, even if it’s 20 minutes each day to take a nap, have a cup of coffee, catch up with a friend on the phone or read the newspaper. That me-time is crucial.”
Finding Time for Respite
So, how do busy caregivers carve out respite time? Dickison recommends scheduling regular breaks. The things we put on our calendars are there because they’re important to us, and respite should be as much of a priority as your loved one’s doctor’s appointments. Writing down your breaks and making them a recurring commitment will help ensure you put aside this time for yourself.
Dickison suggests finding a time when you know your loved one is taken care of, for example when they’re taking their afternoon nap, at adult day care, or attending a weekly appointment where your presence isn’t necessary. If you’re always in caregiver mode, then it’s crucial to make time where your loved one is cared for by someone else. Forgoing respite is not a sustainable arrangement.
Creating Space for Respite
In addition to finding some time to yourself, Dickison is also a strong believer in creating a space that’s just for you. Think of it as your refuge from caregiving and the daily grind. This personal space might be a separate room in your home, a serene spot out in your back yard or just a favorite cozy chair in the corner of your living room. It doesn’t matter if you live in a large house or a small apartment. Find a spot that works for you and make it your dedicated happy place where you can unwind and revel in whatever brings you joy.
Dickison recommends finding small ways to make this little oasis inviting and rejuvenating. You could spruce up the area with a decorative pillow and comfortable throw blanket in your favorite colors. You could hang a treasured piece of art on the wall, light a scented candle, or place a soothing lamp or some potted plants nearby. Playing some soft music can also help improve your mood. The goal is to create a space that is tempting to go to. Spending some time by yourself surrounded by things you love will lift your spirits.
If the person you are caring for is cognitively sound, Dickison recommends discussing this plan for respite time and a dedicated space beforehand. Explain that you need this reprieve and that it will allow you to take better care of yourself and take better care of them by extension.
Having your own space can be difficult to achieve, especially for those caregivers who are living in their care recipient’s homes. However, creating a safe space is even more imperative in these situations. If you are unable to establish your own personal space for whatever reason, keep in mind that this respite area doesn’t necessarily have to be at home. You can find solace on a bench outside at your favorite nearby park, at the local library or even in a pedicure chair at the salon. Sometimes just getting out of the house can help you literally and figuratively leave your stress and responsibilities behind.
Every person’s idea of respite is different. What matters is making yourself a priority and incorporating your wants and needs into a regular routine that all too often revolves around others. Of course, it’s also important to create a support system for yourself as a caregiver. Rely on friends or other family members who can be a sounding board for you and consider joining a support group where you can share your experiences and learn from others who understand what you’re going through.