Work-Life Balance is not an illusion for Caregivers who care for family members. It appears that way because so much of a caregiver’s free time is devoted to their loved one instead of the many other things that they could do for themselves or the things that others freely do without consideration to anyone else.
Family caregivers are a population of people who work long hours out of necessity. Whether it is caring for a child with disability, an elderly parent, or mentally ill family member, it can be arduous and it can be a 24 hour assignment. In the case of caregiving for a family member, it may feel like unpaid work but it is really beyond work; it is a mission. Since there are so many similarities between work and family caregiving, I refer to the dilemma to reclaim your time for personal matters as work-life balance for caregivers.
Caregiving requires great commitment and sacrifice. More than any other role, it requires balancing your life with the necessity of another’s life. When I think of family caregivers, I think of the bible verse in John 15:13 that states, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In my eyes, this scripture defines people who have been placed in the role of caregiver. Although it is a huge responsibility, it is also voluntary. I have such admiration for those who accept that role. I applaud their willingness to sacrifice their personal needs for the needs of another. Often times, they are making sure the person they care for have life balance by ensuring their personal care, recreational, and social needs are met even before their own.
Because of service oriented nature of those who step-up to be family caregivers, many have a tendency to forego their self care, sacrifice their dreams, and disregard life balance altogether. They don’t even see work-life balance as an option. If you have been in a caregiver role for quite some time, you may even be numb to desiring anything for yourself. You may have put your dreams on hold for so long that you don’t even remember what they are. If you are a caregiver in a position like this, you can make small changes to improve work-life balance and put your wholeness back on the top of your list without diminishing the wholeness of your loved one. How do you know if you need to make adjustments? If you find yourself wishing for things to change but not actually taking steps toward your personal goals, if you have lost site of your dreams, if you do not find joy in what you are doing, or if you are feeling guilty or resentful for being in this situation, you will benefit from the work-life balance tips below.
Change Starts with the Basics:
Let’s be reminded of the fundamental principles before we address techniques to improve work-life balance.
- Know that your care matters. Everyone needs care no matter what condition they are in. It is a basic necessity in life. Who is caring for the caregiver? You have to be equally diligent in your own wholeness as you are with your loved one. Wholeness means to grow in spiritual, recreational, health, personal skills, relationships, and financial areas.
- Know that you are equipped for your role. You were chosen as the best, most qualified candidate for this job. In fact, you are CEO of your life and manager of another. You have the leadership skills, resilience, temperament, and patience to do it well. Although most of your training has been on the job, always seek to improve.
- Know that putting yourself first doesn’t mean you are giving less or your loved one will suffer. This usually requires transforming your mindset and throwing away limiting beliefs about self-care. Sometimes, caregivers have created images in their minds envisioning the worse for their loved one. Being haunted by these thoughts tend to be the source of fear based caring methods. Transform your thinking. Create a vision that includes you at your best independent of your loved one and your loved one at their best independent of you. Now blend those images where you coexist together in a loving, fulfilling way. We tend to believe that the word independent is selfish particularly if the loved one is totally dependent; however, envisioning yourself and your loved one in this way will help you make better decisions for both of you.
There are many caregivers who have reached a state of wholeness and practice work-life balance consistently, but there are many that are not. I do realize all caregiving is not the same level as it depends on the independence of the person you are caring for; however, many of the tips below apply to all. Perhaps there will be one tip below that you can implement that will make a huge difference in your life.
To Avoid Burnout:
Eat healthy. Optimize your energy by eating nutritious food. I can not emphasize this enough. If you are neglecting your health, you are jeopardizing your loved one as well.
Spruce up your living environment. Surround yourself with the things that brings you joy. Post your goals and the goals of your loved one. Turn on music. Pick up some flowers. Try a new room fragrance. Declutter.
Daydream. Discover what really makes you happy and set a personal goal around it.
Create a routine that includes your “me” time first thing in the morning. Do not jump out of the bed thinking about all the things you didn’t do and all the things you have to do that day. Even before you get out of the bed, direct your intentions toward your health and wellness. Do at least one thing for you (meditate, pray, whether drink glass water, stretch, exercise, bubble bath, read, etc…) before planning your day. Know that your thoughts will impact the energy and the outcome of the rest of your day. Therefore, once you have reached a state of gratefulness and positive energy from taking care of yourself, now focus on your plans for your day and taking care of others.
Plan your spare time. Prepare a list of what you really want to do. Often times, when time becomes available, it is squandered because you don’t know what you want to do. Oddly enough, we tend to do things to escape but not the things that bring us joy. I know you have a list of chores, but make a list of recreational, relaxation, or whatever brings you joy. So next time you have unexpected free time, you will spend it wisely. Click here to get ideas of fun things to do.
Reach for your hobbies to unwind. Don’t forget about your hobbies. If they are too demanding, perhaps you can get involved in the activity in a different way. Maybe you can’t play a particular sport any longer, but you can coach, you can teach others, you can blog about it, or you can attend events related to it. What about a new hobby? Find something that allows you to participate with your loved one. Consider a hobby that is more conducive to home environment like knitting, fixing jigsaw puzzles, baking, etc.
Schedule your time. Grab a yearly calendar and plug in your priorities first such as date night, recreation events, and personal goals time. Then plug in your engagements for your loved ones. Reconcile and adjust, but don’t take any priorities off the list. Now you can see in advance any conflicts and make necessary arrangements to get help. It will also be a good time to revisit if and why something is a priority.
Accept help. Understand that you are not superwoman or superman. When people offer to assist you, whether it is to cook, clean, or just sit with you or your loved one, do not turn them down. When people say “let me know if you need anything,” take them up on their offer. Just stop thinking you have to do everything yourself. Keep in mind as a manager who wants the best for you and your loved one, you have to build a team/support system. You can not effectively do this without help from others. One suggestion is to find others in the same boat as you and schedule fun activities together or exchange care. A support group of other family members and friends will definitely make things easier particularly in emergency situations, and you know there will be emergency situations.
Ask for help. Again, you are not in this alone. Not only will you utilize your support system, call outside agencies like health insurance agencies and local agencies to see what programs are available for assistance. You may be surprise to learn about the hidden benefits and social circles around your town available to help.
Organization and productivity is important. Automate and make use of technology to help with time management. This may include electronic banking, monitoring devices, apps for medication management, etc. You want to help your loved one stay as independent as possible and that will help you as well.
Outsource as much as you can afford. Hire help even if it is for small pockets of time, one or two hours here and there. Maybe you can barter your services in exchange for services that will help you or your loved one. Also, seek out ways to earn passive income so you will have extra money to hire people to take the load off yourself. There are many legitimate money making opportunities you can do from comfort of your home. As an example, blogging and affiliate marketing are lucrative ways of earning money online. Whichever method you choose to earn additional income, just be willing to direct the extra money toward efforts to reclaim your time.
Please share your comments below. If you are a caregiver, know that you are a hero. If you know a caregiver that may be stressed and overwhelmed, please pass this along.