I recently attended a faith community nurse workshop which focused on caring for the caregiver. That is to say, when a person is solely responsible for the care of a family member who is ill, often a healthy family member ignores his/her own self-care in order to provide the best care possible for the one who is ill. The challenges of that situation have been presented in this healthcare communication in the past. What prompted a revisit of this topic is the new book, Cruising Through Caregiving, by Jennifer L FitzPatrick, a social worker who offers support and practical ideas on the needs of an elder family member. It sounds intriguing that "cruising" was used in the title, since that implies "smooth sailing," something unrealistic to real life experiences.
The focus on the health of the caregiver can be applied to those of any age, whether providing care to infants, children, or adults; and the caregiving needs may vary in intensity and duration.
While multi-tasking may be necessary from time to time, doing so every day or every week, depletes the overall strength of body, mind, and spirit. The effect on the body can become chronic sleep deprivation, irregular eating habits, increasing physical and mental stress, depression, and anxiety. If you note that in yourself or another family member or friend, consider reaching out to others who are concerned to get help with the care of the “patient” or the chores of the household, to provide some respite for the primary caregiver.
In no way do I intend to minimize this burden which can become exhausting. But let me note some suggestions that may be beneficial, including my offer of loaning the book Cruising through Caregiving, if you wish to read additional information.
Some guidance to consider:
Be in the here and now; tend to the tasks of immediate need without those thoughts of "what about . . . [a host of other things]?" Schedule breaks for yourself in the day in order to spend even a few minutes taking a nap, reading, or visiting with a friend.
Slow down; pace the tasks of the day over a reasonable time frame, allow for flexibility whenever possible.
Take a deep breath. It is a tendency to become so caught up in the busy-ness that we forget the basic self-care of restorative deep breathing. Even better – practice deep breathing outdoors and/or during a leisurely walk.
Unplug, as in making time for yourself, as noted above. Permit yourself the luxury of a nap or perhaps a brief outing which may energize you. One of my own memorable experiences along this line was when a friend took me to her favorite greenhouse to browse through the flowers and plants, relaxing in the moment, thinking only about the garden, for a short time.
Nurture a joyful disposition. That is not to deny the difficulty of the work at hand, but look for times during the day that are worthy of gratitude. It need not be grandiose or life-changing; but there can be joy in a phone call from a friend, fresh linens out of the dryer, or a pause for a cup of tea. The attitude of gratitude can renew physical and emotional energy. It can be that "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" from God's faithfulness.