Can you afford to take a break from caregiving? Equally important question: Can you afford not to?
There’s a reason why being a family caregiver has become the poster child for chronic stress syndromes. The responsibilities are never ending and multifaceted. And even when you try to get a few hours away, you’re still on call for whatever may happen.
Is it even possible to get a more extended vacation where you can entirely unplug and rejuvenate yourself?
The answer is yes, but they’re quite a few steps to making it happen.
Recognize that being a family caregiver is tremendously stressful and over time can cause you to break down as well. If you’re interested, the Health in Aging Organization has created a caregiver stress self-assessment which can be found HERE.
There is a risk in not taking a break. Common signs of caregiver breakdown are:
- Anxiety / depression / irritability
- Difficulty sleeping
- New or worsening health problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- No longer participating in leisure activities
- Increased alcohol consumption, smoking, or overeating
- Increasing sense of resentment and anger toward the individual that you’re providing care for
- Chronic exhaustion
The individual you’re providing care for needs you to be at your best, so you need to take care of yourself.
Steps to getting a break.
Make a List. Make a list of all the tasks that you do for your loved one and when you do them. This list-making task is to get a perspective on the scope of the work that you do and what it would take to get a break for you. This document will also act as a checklist for handing off tasks. The most natural and most effective way to make this list is to keep a notebook for a week or two. Write down everything that you do, even the small incidental stuff. It’s important.
Find the Who. If your loved one has a paid caregiver already in place, see if they can pick up the slack for you by temporarily increasing their hours. You may have a family member that can come over to stay for a week to provide a break for you. Or reach out to local companies for temporary caregivers to help provide respite.
Or Find the Where. Often assisted living and nursing institutions will provide low-cost respite care with a hope that you will develop a relationship with them and consider using them in the future for long-term care needs.
Plan Well in Advance. Consider your loved one’s personality. It might not always be a great idea to give them a long time to think about you leaving for a time. It is true especially if your loved one is a worrier. It might be a good idea to slowly introduce a new caregiver before your leave. You can talk about how you need a break beforehand to set the table for the discussion, but then let them know when preparations are mostly set and who will be there to help.
Not all caregiving relationships are healthy. By taking time for yourself, you are making a statement that your needs are essential as well. This may not sit well with people with more demanding styles. They may not be happy, but they will respect you more for taking time to rest.
When you are rested you can better give to another person. You can be more compassionate, open and a better version of you, when you are relaxed.