By Dr. Jamie Huysman
Being a primary caregiver can leave little room for creating a balance with the other important parts of your life. All caregiving and no life can make you one burnt out mess! Setting a schedule is necessary when there are specific duties that require doing at specific times, such as giving medications. However, you must consider boundaries around what care you are willing to provide and what you are physically not able to do. Breaking through any confinement in your life is an exercise in expanding your horizon. Both have their place.
When you are new to caregiving, setting a schedule is advisable as you learn to manage your own time and energy with the needs of your caree. Take some time to define your role, learn what you need to know, gather all available resources, including other family members, and come to terms with how to fit these new responsibilities into your daily life.
Most caregivers take their caregiving seriously – sometimes too seriously. Maintaining a healthy balance and perspective will keep burnout at bay. There needs to be more to your life than taking care of other people. At some point, you need to take the time to care for yourself.
If you are one of the many caregivers running on empty or overwhelm, here are some tips to un-blur the lines and regain some semblance of balance.
1. Here is a simple centering exercise to bring you into the present: STOP everything you’re doing RIGHT NOW. SIT DOWN and JUST BREATHE for at least 2-5 minutes, longer if you are able. Try not to think about what you think you need to be doing because the fact is that you are doing what you need to be doing – just breathing, that’s all. Now SMILE, just for the sake of smiling, for one minute. Then, take a deep breath, get up slowly and carry on with your day. DON’T RUSH, You’ll be able to get more done by slowing down and paying attention to the details of each task. Be sure to complete one task before going on to the next one. There is a time for multitasking, but this is not it!
2. Know your limits – No one (even you), can be expected to give more than you have to give. Always keep some of yourself for you and others.
3. Practice H.A.L.T.(S) – Never allow yourself to get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. You might also add an “S” for Sick, Stressed or Sad!
4. Maintain flexibility! – Don’t get so locked into a routine that any interference becomes an obstacle in your day. Life happens; it doesn’t follow a set pattern. It can be enormously refreshing to disrupt your routine on purpose and do something differently.
5. Take Time to notice and acknowledge: (1) something for which you are grateful, (2) something beautiful, (3) something humorous, etc. every day!
Healthy boundaries are a touchstone of happy relationships; they guide us in our understanding of ourselves and our interactions with others. When the boundaries we’ve set no longer serve us, it’s time to move the line, not tow it.
Dr. Jamie co-authored the acclaimed Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss and was featured in The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership, Voices of Caregiving and Voices of Alcoholism. Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Florida MD and Today’s Caregiver magazines and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.