Most of us live frantic lives. That's the nature of today's world. Add to that the job – for it is a job no matter how lovingly we do it – of caring for one or more elders, and it's no wonder that some of the AgingCare.com forum readers and contributors say they'd just like to chuck it all and run away.
Many of us fit into the sandwich generation where we are caring for children, as well as one or more elders. For several years running, I totaled seven elders, with five needy elders at once, plus two children in my care. Talk about a sandwich – mine was a whopper. And yes, there were times when I wondered how I could keep it up. There were times when I would have loved to have run away, so I can relate to the people who write and say they are burned out, frustrated and would love to "run away from the whole thing." Obviously, we are responsible people and we are not going to do that. Feelings aren't bad. They are just human emotions. Don't add to your caregiver guilt load by beating yourself up over these thoughts.
How to Minimize the Stress of Caregiving
If you feel like you'd love to escape, and you can handle that burnout with a yoga session, a lunch out with girlfriends, a run around the block or even a little therapeutic shopping, then you are likely in a fairly good spot. Start with the examples below to safeguard your health and make the tough times easier to get through.
- Talk it out on a forum, in a support group or with friends.
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- Get some sleep, even if you have to hire in-home help to be with your loved one throughout the night or while you nap. You can't function without a basic amount of quality sleep.
- Diversions such as movies, books, favorite TV shows or hobbies are good.
Getting Heavy Duty Help
If this feeling of wanting to run away from your life goes on and on and on, if you're stuck and don't know where to turn, or if you are depressed and unable to function normally, then you need to look at getting some more serious help.
- Get a complete physical and be honest with your doctor about your feelings about your life.
- Ask to be checked for infections such as a UTI or low grade sinus infection if you are feeling lethargic.
- Ask if the doctor thinks you should see a counselor.
- Ask if an antidepressant is needed.
I know. I know. You are saying when will I do these things and how will I pay for them? That was my response to such suggestions. I laughed at the idea of finding time to go to a support group. This is where computers and forums like AgingCare are such a blessing. I didn't have that release during most of my active caregiving years.
I skipped mammograms and was lucky. A friend of mine skipped hers and when she finally got around to it, she found she was in stage II breast cancer. It was amazing how she found time to take care of the disease then. And that took far more time than a yearly mammogram and the lumpectomy she likely could have had if the cancer had been caught earlier.
During my heavy duty caregiving years, I skipped physicals in general. Again, I was lucky, but I did develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are very common among caregivers. RA is in my family, so I may have developed it anyway. But I developed it at an odd time in my life. And yes, RA took - and takes - time to manage. Would I have gotten RA if I'd given myself more down time? There's no way to know. But more downtime wouldn't have hurt me, and quite frankly, it wouldn't have hurt my elders, either.
During those heavy years, I didn't exercise like I did when my kids were young. I ate junk food. I was too tired to care. None of this was good. My sister teases me that I now preach about what I didn't do. And she's right. I didn't take care of myself very well.
Cope with Caregiver Burnout
How much would I do differently if I knew then what I know now? I'm not sure. I'm an obsessive caregiver. But I do think I'd try to take better care of myself. I'm sure I'd be on Caregiver Forum as a regular – as I am now, but I wouldn't have been moderating. I would have had an anonymous user name and followed closely the threads that I related to most.
I think I'd make time for those annual physicals, and I think I'd be more honest with my doctor about my stress level and the reason behind that when I did go. When my caregiving was at its peak, most doctors weren't aware of the toll caregiving takes on the health of the family caregiver. Now most of them are. Tell your doctor that you are a family caregiver. Caregiving is a job. It's a stressful job.
If you have more than occasional thoughts about "running away from it all," that is a danger sign. Your own health may be breaking down. Look for help on your state website under their version of "aging services." On that site, find your state's version of The Family Caregiver Support Program. See what they can offer you for respite care, peer-to-peer support and even information on some financial help so you can get a break. Remember, if your health breaks, you won't be there to care for anyone. Also remember that if you are unwell – mentally and/or physically – you won't be able to be the caregiver you want to be.
Please look to your state's aging support site to help direct you to care and support that is out there. Some states offer more than others, but all have something. If you have an Area Agency on Aging in your community, they too are wonderful. Block nurse programs give help in some communities. There are options that only your local people can help you with. So check that state website. Also, try your local Alzheimer's Association. Try to get some help so you can take care of yourself. Then you won't be as likely to feel like running away – at least not as often.