Give Yourself a Caregiver Time Out to Increase Energy and Reduce Stress

caregiver-time-out.jpgWhen my friend Jeanine asked, “How do I get through life like this?”, I said, “Give yourself a caregiver time out.” Jeanine’s husband had a stroke about a year-and-a-half ago. Since then she has focused all of her time and energy on caring for him. She is now beginning to feel like a prisoner in her own home.

I told her about my friend Julia whose husband had cancer. By submitting to one treatment after another, he had outlived his prognosis by more than three years. Julia had nursed him through all of the horrendous side effects, and one day she said, “I am done putting my life on hold waiting for Robert to die. I don’t know how much longer he has, but I know if I don’t start living myself, I’m going to give out before he does.”

Immediately following the onset of an illness or injury, we seek cures, remedies and solutions. We think if we just find the right medication, the right therapy program, and if we just love them enough and give enough that our loved one will recover and our lives will return to normal. Tragically, that rarely happens.

In order to survive the emotional and physical stress of long-term caregiving, you must accept that self-care is not selfish. I will be writing a series of articles this week trying to help Jeanine and others who are in a similar position. Today my suggestion is this:

Give Yourself a Caregiver Time Out

When someone you love has a stroke, is diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s or any other long-term progressive disease, you experience a tremendous loss, and you take on an enormous responsibility.

It’s normal and appropriate to focus all of your energy on their care during the crisis. However, once your loved one is stabilized, you must pay attention to your own physical and emotional needs in order to prevent physical collapse and emotional burnout.

Learning to ask for and accept help may be the key to survival. To find the types of organizations and services that can provide a little rest, respite and relief, click on this link: Aging in Place

Understanding that self-care is not selfish and giving yourself permission to have a caregiver time-out on a regular basis will help reduce your stress and maintain the physical and emotional energy you will need to cope with the ongoing needs of your care receiver.