Suddenly becoming a caregiver has a major impact on your life. A life-changing moment can happen in the blink of an eye. When this moment involves a parent who suddenly can no longer care for themselves – following a stroke, Alzheimer's diagnosis, cancer, etc. -- how do we prepare to handle our seniors' rapidly changing needs?

If you are a new caregiver, ask yourself these questions: Are you in crisis caring for someone you love? Is your life spinning out of control? Have you lost touch with family and friends? Worse – have you lost your self -esteem? Do you feel like your world has been rocked and wracked? Has your reality changed into a nightmare?

You are not alone! And you don't have to live this way. Most caregivers did not plan for this journey. Truthfully, most were just thrown unsuspectingly into it. If you're like I was, perhaps you thought, "How hard can this be?" We cannot be prepared for what is coming our way, and if you forgot to plan, or you didn't have time to plan and you suddenly became a caregiver overnight, then it's easy to see why your life has become out of control. It is common for most caregivers to stay in crisis and live each day wondering…what is going to happen next? For many caregivers, they don't take the time to evaluate if their lives are in crisis. Why is that? Too scary? Not enough time for yourself? Too busy? What are the reasons? If you can relate to any of this, it's time to get your life in order. It's time begin managing caregiving from a new empowered place.

Your life is in crisis if….

  • You have stopped seeing friends and family
  • You have stopped doing social activities
  • You've used up your vacation time and sick leave days
  • You can't sleep even though you are exhausted
  • You are gaining or losing weight for no reason
  • You have lost your sense of humor
  • Your health is failing
  • You're happiest just staying in bed
  • You have no energy
  • Your marriage is suffering
  • You have too many bouts of depression
  • You have lost your perspective on the beauty and joy of living
  • You feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders

If you answered "yes" to even three of these, you need to take action.

New caregiver to empowered caregiver

The goal is to become empowered in your role and this begins with you. The caregiving journey is about you. It's not about all of the things you have to do and the challenges that present themselves. It's about the value you place on yourself. It's possible that it may take you some time to wrap your head around this concept. After all, you've been giving everything you have to someone else. There's nothing left to give to you. It may even be that you have to step completely out of your comfort zone and ask for professional help. Sometimes one hour of concentrated help can make all the difference in the world. Maybe this doesn't work for you. Just think about it. Is there a benefit for you? What is your life worth? What is your time worth? What is your self-esteem worth? Just think about it.

How new caregivers can avoid crisis caregiving

There are very clear ways to change the course of crisis caregiving. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen if you make the decision to be a part of the care plan. Practical tips for making the plan:

  • Understand that you must be at the top of the pyramid.
  • It's okay to say no to a loved one. Be kind, yet firm.
  • You must have time off at least twice a week.
  • Do something frivolous, crazy, fun, exciting or….do something quiet and peaceful.
  • Call your friends and family and tell them that you are sorry for losing contact. Ask for their understanding and maybe even their help.
  • Set boundaries and limits that you will keep. Then, keep them.
  • Make a vow to eat healthy and delicious food that fuels your body.
  • Get busy making plans to bring others into the caring process. Find a relative, adult day care, a home care agency – whatever works for you.
  • Create a master plan that gives you some time off.
  • Accept your own limitations and stop trying to fix everything.
  • And above all else, honor yourself for the ultimate act of caring for another.

Caregiving is a selfless journey that only a very compassionate person with a kind heart takes on. Give yourself credit for stepping up. Many wouldn't (you probably know some – perhaps even family). Caregiving isn't easy, it is often not pleasant and you probably won't get much thanks from others. But know that you are making a difference in the life of someone who can no longer care for themselves.