Caregiving: How to Know When You Can’t Do It Anymore
The Caring Generation® – Episode 176, September 20, 2023. Knowing when you can’t do it anymore is a crossroads moment in caregiving. When you do more of what you don’t want, envy happy people, feel unappreciated, and forget you have choices, it might be time for a change.
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If you are a caregiver, are you wondering how to know when you can’t do it anymore? This week’s episode, #176 of the Caring Generation, offers 12 insights about how to know if it’s time for a change.
How to Know When You Can’t Do It Anymore
Circumstances beyond a caregiver’s control over day-to-day events, like negative thoughts or beliefs and exhausting interactions, can prevent change. A comfortable routine can result in self-doubts and a lack of confidence in one’s abilities.
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Until caregivers realize that more potential exists in their lives and that there are choices, they may not be able to realize when they can’t do it—whatever that it is—anymore. Which includes finding other options besides you to care for a parent. Do you wish you could:
- Get a job or change jobs
- Make more friends so that you have an active social life
- Have more self-confidence
- Feel better, lose weight, or have more energy
There are many opportunities to level up and gain the confidence to advance in life. So, let’s look at 12 insights to help caregivers know when they can’t do it anymore and it might be time for change.
1 – Do you spend most of your time sharing frustrations or complaining?
Do you feel trapped in your caregiving situation or relationship? Do you feel powerless to change?
Have you become the complainer driving away family members or friends who no longer want to listen? Have these relationships become imbalanced because you do all the talking, want others to tell your story, and ignore the solutions they offer?
How might you know that a friendly relationship is in the danger zone? Are people making excuses about why they can’t spend time with you?
You must have something to offer if you want to maintain or continue relationships with these friends. Instead of ignoring their suggestions, become interested. Follow through on one of their recommendations and provide an update. Thank them for listening to you and offering suggestions—shift discussions to problem-solving mode. Accepting help from others can be beneficial when you realize that you can’t do it anymore.
2 – Are you doing more of what you don’t want to do?
Many caregivers feel they have to do it all. This includes spousal caregivers who still deserve to have a life.
As a result, their schedules become filled with tasks they feel compelled to complete regardless of other meaningful relationships with spouses or children. If this sounds like you, ask yourself these questions?
- Have you lost yourself in caregiving activities to the degree that you feel you cannot take a break or make time for yourself?
- Are there things that you did before caregiving responsibilities that you miss?
- What time or activities have you traded or shifted to caregiving tasks?
- Do your daily activities make you feel exhausted or excited to be alive?
Caregiver exhaustion and burnout are real. Sometimes, it takes another person to call out activities of extreme dedication that caregivers feel are normal. Caregivers often view these differences in opinion as oppositional— “no one understands my situation.”
While it may be accurate that others do not understand because they are not involved in the daily doing, caregivers who live to care for another person instead of living for themselves may be over-involved. When being a caregiver becomes your identity, it may be time to realize you can’t do it anymore.
3 – Do you envy people who seem happier than you are?
Caregivers often watch siblings and friends move on with their lives. Feeling restricted or limited can result in obsessing about another person’s life and daily activities.
Anyone who experiences a gap in comparison to another person can experience envy. Being envious can be described as having feelings of unfairness or anger toward another person. People who are envious or lack conflict resolution skills may speak badly about others—but not to their face.
Research by Xiang and others relates envy to a high level of concern about lack versus other people’s lives or possessions. The result can be a feeling of inferiority, leading to a lack of self-esteem or depression.
Admitting feelings of envy can be difficult. When caregivers compare their lives to others, focusing on gaps can lead to more negative behaviors, making it challenging to mind-shift to more positive thoughts or actions.
4 – Are the people you spend the most time with negative or discouraging?
The thoughts and actions of the people we spend the most time with can be life-affecting. If you are a caregiver, this negative or discouraging person could be the person you care for who might be struggling with health problems, mental illness, or depression and who also feels hopeless or stuck.
Two people in a relationship who feel depressed or hopeless can make it very hard for one person to change their thoughts and behaviors. It is possible to change behaviors and attitudes when you realize that being a caregiver is something that you can’t do anymore.
Becoming self-aware of your moods and habits is essential—as is creating self-care routines and finding joyful moments outside negative or draining relationships.
Let’s use negativity in the workplace as an example of a discouraging environment. When criticism—in place of constructive feedback or training is the first point of conversations or when discussions focus on reasons something cannot be done—this interaction can discourage or demotivate employees.
Being around negative or discouraging people can transfer negativity to you and influence your thoughts. Pay close attention to your thoughts when around negative people or situations.
If you know you will be spending time with challenging personalities, say, “I choose to remain positive despite the circumstances of this situation. I won’t let others pull me over to their way of thinking.” You can say this before and after your visit to wash away the negativity.
Negativity Drains Positivity
The more time spent in negative thinking, the less time is available to commit to positive activities or improve a less-than-ideal situation. What usually happens is that the brain takes over and continues the whirlwind of negative thinking unless you have the insight to catch this tendency and take control of your thoughts.
Resist allowing other people to influence your emotions. It’s easy to say, “This person made me mad.” Instead, ask, “Why do I allow this person to make me feel this way? Then, figure out how to resolve the feeling. Blaming others for problems or misfortunes serves no purpose. Add it to the list of things you can’t do anymore.
5 – Do you realize that you have choices?
Choice always exists even though there may not seem to be any choices or good choices at any given time. For this issue, I suggest learning how to mind shift.
Mind shifting is about eliminating the clutter and baggage that clogs up and weighs down the mind. Mental clutter includes thoughts or stories you tell yourself that make you doubt yourself or your abilities.
Part of mind shifting is to write down your thoughts or keep a journal to identify thoughts that help or support or that harm or detract from your goal.
It would help if you had a goal. Goals can be simple or complicated things. For example, I choose to be happier and more positive every day. I want to stop being a caregiver, so I will create an exit plan that includes all the steps to get me there.
Another part of mind shifting is looking at your assumptions about caregiving. For example, many caregivers say, “I have no choice.” You have a choice, and you make that choice every day by your actions. Until you choose to believe you have a choice, nothing will change.
To move forward, create a goal and develop a strategy and the steps to get there. If you want to make this work, write it down create a list of things to do, a calendar, and a timeline. Then, consider what behaviors you might adjust and how you will change your mindset.
Creating change might require a different mindset and way of thinking that is different from how you think today. Are you ready?
6 – Are you afraid of change?
Have you become comfortable in a bad situation?
- You know the people involved even though you may not like or trust them anymore.
- Life is stable, repetitive, and somewhat predictable.
- Even though it’s not the way you want, you know what to expect.
For caregivers, challenging situations may be hypervigilant and worrying about everything. If you care for an aging parent, do you jump to respond to every request, which makes it impossible to make any plans to have time for yourself?
I know because this happens. After all, I’ve been there. For over 20 years, I managed care for older and disabled adults. In many situations, I was the legally responsible person—the medical or financial power of attorney, the guardian or conservator.
This means that when an unexpected situation arose, I was the person who received the phone call. My phone rang at 2 in the morning, while on a hike, hiking, at dinner with friends, or on vacation.
This daily disruption can contribute to knowing when you can’t do it anymore and how to know it’s time for a change.
7 – Have you lost interest and enthusiasm about life?
Does one day turn into the next and the next? Are you at a point where you don’t care about anything?
If so, finding something or someone who inspires you is critical. It doesn’t matter what this inspiration happens to be.
All that matters is that you stop drowning in quicksand or falling into a bottomless pit of hopelessness or depression that will make it very difficult to pull yourself out. Focusing on the gaps or negatives is easy. Your brain will do that all day.
Only you can close the gap by finding a joyful activity to distract your brain and give it a rest. Instead of being envious or angry at siblings or others who can’t or refuse to make the time to get involved, find another way to take consistent time off.
But first, you have to find someone or something who inspires or motivates you. For example, I watched a television interview where a well-known individual talked about why he has been successful.
The central theme of this discussion was being passionate about projects. The second theme was only giving time and attention to projects that raised the bar to make things better or more significant. Doing more of the same for this person was not an option.
So, when you think about this, we all go down rabbit holes of unproductive or unconstructive time. This is not to say there aren’t times when we don’t want to think.
But if you allow mental distractions to take over your life, you will never close the gaps and get to where you want to go, whether changing your caregiving situation or doing something else.
8 – Not sure where you can find inspiration?
Where do you find people who can inspire or motivate you? Everywhere.
Think of a hobby or an interest that you have. It could be business, football, bird watching, fishing, gardening, cooking. There are leaders in all these categories. Books and articles are constantly published.
Do your research. Read.
There’s a statistic about the reading. According to a Gallup Poll, the people who read the most include college graduates, women, and older adults. Reading as an activity is declining, possibly because there are so many competing activities.
The best way to learn new skills is to seek information through reading or research. Spend time with people succeeding in the activity you want to pursue. You can even virtually check out the latest best-selling motivational or interest books from your local library. You can find helpful articles in my online caregiver library.
Realize When It’s Time to Leave
If you have been a caregiver for some time, you may realize you no longer have patience or compassion for tasks you used to do with a smile. Minor irritations hijack your mind and your emotions.
There can become a point where caregivers become so burned out and exhausted that having to continue in a role or situation becomes an irritation. When you find yourself at this point, it’s time to realize that you may no longer be the best person to care for your mom, dad, spouse, or another person. This is okay.
If you’re like most caregivers, you don’t give yourself enough credit for your work. You may feel guilty for wanting the situation to end.
Let me give an example that may be more relatable. This need for change is no different than being in a job you have outgrown or working for a company where the culture or goals have changed so much that they no longer match your interests or motivations.
9 – Do you dream of running away?
Do you dream of running away or escaping? I have known some caregivers who thought of committing suicide as an easier way out of dealing with situations that seemed impossible.
If you feel this despondent or consider harming yourself or another person, call a suicide hotline immediately and get help. Call or text 988.
Feeling dissatisfied with life and unable to cope can lead to engaging in habits you would never usually do. These habits may include drinking or using substances. You may be depressed and want to sleep all day.
Other signs of depression include:
- Feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, or pessimistic
- Being tired all the time or not having your usual amount of energy.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate or being mentally distracted
- Weight gain or loss
Experiencing high levels of stress have similar experiences. Do you wonder how to get yourself back? How to return to being that person who is happy and enthusiastic.
Depending on how long you have been a caregiver and how long you’ve allowed yourself to remain in a situation that is not good for you, it may take some time to work your way out.
The bright spot is that you can work your way out. All you need is a belief that you and the situation can change.
Create an “I” statement that gives you confidence and hope. For example, I
- Am stronger than I realize
- Choose to be positive
- Chase my dreams, and am optimistic
- Choose to see the beauty and hope in life
- Am inspired by the actions of others
Beyond maintaining a positive mindset, you must identify your why. For example, I am moving forward to provide for myself and live some of my dreams.
Finding your way can take a little mental digging if you have been in a state of hopelessness.
10 – Do you make excuses for why you have to remain the caregiver?
Accept that your choices resulted in today’s reality. End being defensive if others give you suggestions. Instead, be thankful because they care enough to offer ideas.
End resistance by trying new things. You will have to try new things, think differently, and work to create new habits if you want your life to change. Change may not be easy, but it is possible.
Find a cheerleader to support your ideas and encourage you to keep going toward the dream that you identify. It’s so easy to feel stuck, as if you can’t move forward or that life has to wait for this event to happen.
Caregivers—parents raising children and adult children caring for aging parents, say there’s always too much to do.
Time does not wait for you to be ready. There’s always too much to do, and beliefs can exist that one thing has to happen before the next.
While timelines, processes, and projects can occur sequentially, they can also co-occur if you are willing to change some of your daily activities.
11 – Have you become critical or cynical?
Being cynical or critical can mirror habits of making excuses or being resentful. Have you heard the statement, “Where there is a will, there is a way?”
If you feel envious, how are other people doing what you want to do? If you are struggling—why? Is it because you are used to doing things a certain way and are unwilling to change?
Let’s look at a work example because this seems to be a topic that’s easy to relate to. Let’s say that you want a promotion. Everyone around you is getting promoted, but you are not.
Do you know why? Have you asked your supervisor why? In lieu of asking your supervisor, have you asked your colleagues for feedback about your job performance?
- Do you have a negative attitude?
- Is your work of equal or better quality than your peers?
- Do you have leadership qualities?
If you want to be promoted, ask your supervisor to work with you on a list of skills or things you must accomplish.
Identifying how to be promoted can be similar to making changes to be promoted out of the caregiving role. What are the things you want? What will it take for you to gain the skills, confidence, and abilities necessary to move forward?
For example, jumping from A to Z can be difficult if you have been out of the workforce for a while. The same goes for being out of touch with current events and trends.
12 – Has the world changed, and you haven’t kept up?
Let’s use technology as an example. If you can’t use a computer or type, this could be a significant gap if you want an administrative or professional position.
As a care manager, I knew many qualified and outstanding CNAs who wanted administrative positions but lacked computer skills. They didn’t know how to type or use computer programs. While I felt bad telling them they were not qualified, they would have failed if hired.
These CNAs had to return to school to learn the technology and computer skills necessary for care coordination positions. The CNA skills—combined with the ability to type and use computer programs— made them exceptional care coordinators.
So regardless of where you are today, when you realize that you can’t do it anymore. Look at your life and dream a little.
Dream about what your perfect life would look like within reason and then ten times more so that you have an initial and a long-term goal. Then figure out how to make it happen.
Life is a very long game if we are fortunate. Those who do their best become resilient, persistent, and keep going.
The benefit of being a caregiver and realizing that you can’t do it anymore may be that you gain insight into how to care for your health and plan for your future if you are single. Or, if married, make a plan so that your children do not have to become your caregivers.
There are lessons everywhere. Sometimes, life’s responsibilities are so all-consuming that it’s impossible to see the lesson until a long way down the road.
But if you keep asking what lesson I’m supposed to learn from this and be open to input, feedback, and tough love from others, you can learn the lesson. So whatever challenge you face – it will not repeat.
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