Your mornings start early, and many nights are sleepless. You spend your days taking care of someone else. Maybe that someone else is your mother struggling with dementia, or your husband dealing with osteoarthritis. Maybe it’s your child who has diabetes, or your brother battling cancer. No matter what the situation, you are always on duty, with few precious moments for yourself. It’s exhausting and stressful – and so, so important.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. A whole month dedicated to the people like you who put others before themselves and devote themselves to ensuring that those who are sick, disabled, or elderly feel secure and cared for. There are 65.7 million people like you in the United States. For many of you, the job of caregiving lasts for three years or more, and takes up so many days out of each month. It can be all consuming – which makes it all the more important to remember a key element of caregiving...
We know that as a caregiver, you can get into a pattern of spending so much energy taking care of your loved ones that it can leave very little time for personal rest and relaxation. Caregiving is a tough role – it puts you at at risk for emotional, mental, and physical health issues related to chronic stress. It probably goes against your nature to take some time for yourself – many caregivers are all too familiar with the feeling of guilt that can come from taking a break. But, that break is essential.
In fact, it’s so essential that the Caregiver Action Network chose “Respite: Care for Caregivers” as the theme for this year’s National Family Caregivers Month. They remind us that taking some time to replenish not only can improve your health, but also can strengthen relationships with your family and keep you from getting burned-out. What does this replenishment look like? As caregiver Barry Jacobs notes in his recent AARP column, it means eating and sleeping well, maintaining important relationships, and taking time to relax.
If you’re still not sold on this idea, here’s more good news. A bit of relaxation for you can allow your loved one to “stay at home up to three times longer” than if you don’t make time for yourself, and can often make you a better caregiver. It makes sense: Barry writes that, “life without any fun makes me a cranky caregiver. When I play basketball or see a movie, nap or read, I put energy back in my tank and then have more to give.”
So, in honor of National Family Caregivers Month, we encourage you to unwind. Let a friend help you for a day or two, or call a family member to take the reigns temporarily. Reap the benefits of filling up your tank.
Thanks for everything you do. Let’s keep taking care of each other.