Five Things to Do When Caregiving Becomes Too Much
By Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA
Unexpected challenges fill the lives of caregivers with days when caregiving becomes too much. Most caregiving days are challenging. Days are consumed with problems and frustrations about things that continually go wrong. On days when caregiving becomes too much, these five things may offer solutions for immediate relief and support actions to balance caregiving stress.
In caregiving, having a Plan A, a Plan B, and a backup plan is critical to avoid unnecessary stress. I find that when I roleplay and prepare for the worst case scenarios in my mind—the worst case rarely happens. If something unexpected arises, I am well-prepared to respond calmly and logically because I have thought of all of the problems that might arise in a situation. Preparing for different scenarios supports confidence that the situation is manageable which is better than being caught off guard, unprepared, and responding negatively.
New and veteran caregivers feel overwhelmed by caregiving roles and responsibilities when there is no plan for “when things go wrong.” Uncommon wisdom confirms that it is important to have a plan of action to avoid going off the deep end when caregiving becomes too much.
The unexpected is part of caregiving. Instead of being thrown off and unsure how to respond, by using these five things when caregiving becomes too much, caregivers will become more confident and emotionally balanced.
Five Things to Do When Caregiving Becomes Too Much
1 Embrace Forgiveness and Express Appreciation
The lives of caregivers are filled with the challenges of monitoring care, communicating, and advocating for care. Caregivers and care receivers have bad days. Plans go off course, and appointments don’t work out as planned. Care receivers may not feel well, are in a bad mood, and be unintentionally verbally abusive toward the caregiver and others.
As the main caregiver for an aging parent or spouse, you bear the responsibility to hold everything together. You are the reliable one and the problem solver. Caregivers learn through trial and error to become efficient, to remain level-headed, and to balance the activities of life.
Working caregivers schedule caregiving tasks before and after work hours, and evenings and weekends are filled with caregiving activities. A full caregiving schedule may result in limited time with spouses, children, friends and enjoyable activities. Caregiving places stress on family relationships.
Spousal caregivers who are retired may plan days and weeks in advance to balance medical appointments and other care needs. Establishing a routine or some type of schedule helps juggle caregiving responsibilities. These caregivers who are often 24/7 caregivers rarely have time for a break. Activities are non-stop.
Caregiving glitches—things that go wrong—can throw off even the most level-headed caregiver. These are the times when caregiving becomes too much.
Taking a step back to forgive the situation and the individuals involved is a first step for the caregiver to add distance between the reality and the emotions of the situation. Research confirms that individuals with high self-control more easily forgive people and situations. (1) The same individuals who are disciplined with their schedules and activities are more successful both personally and interpersonally.
For the most part, no one intends to verbally snap, be impatient, purposefully unhelpful, or appear to be mean. The daily grind of caregiving is stressful for the entire care team that may consist of medical personnel, insurance providers, and caregivers in the home or in care communities.
Expressing appreciation for even the smallest thing that goes right each day changes frustration to positive thoughts. Did the car start this morning? Was a favorite song playing on the radio? Make it a daily habit each day find three things to be thankful for and to say thank you to others
2 Stop the Self-Sacrifice – Avoid Martyr Syndrome
Caregivers neglect their own needs in favor of the needs of an aging parent or spouse who needs care. One of the first symptoms of caregiver martyr syndrome is poor physical health. Headaches, stomach aches, not sleeping well at night, and depression are common health concerns of caregivers.
Instead of making doctor appointments, like a caregiver would do for an aging parent or spouse, the caregiver avoids going to the doctor. Caregivers tell me, “I’m not that sick,” or “I’ve never been sick in my life.” You are now a caregiver. The game has changed. Stop denying that you are experiencing health concerns. Make and attend a medical appointment.
If you have a routine of attending services on Sunday or meditating do not stop these practices. Caregivers benefit from spiritual and mindful practices to reduce stress levels.
When was the last time you did something fun? Have you given up friends and socializing? Time constraints result in caregivers having or making time for themselves. When caregiving becomes too much, the effects for caregivers of a lack of participation in enjoyable activities and little socialization are poor health and depression.
Becoming more isolated results in negative thinking and loneliness. At a minimum, when caregiving becomes too much find a caregiving support group in person or online so that you do not become isolated from other people. Sharing your feelings with others who understand can be a positive experience.
3 Schedule Time for You
Physical and mental activity are perfect distractions for the brain to dissolve worry and stress. On days when caregiving becomes too much, take a walk through the building where you work or go outside for a walk. Start a walking group at your office during the lunch break. Join a gym and exercise in the morning before work, during lunch, or on your way home.
Get in the car and drive to the grocery store or the mall; walk through the aisles. Drive to a park, sit outside on the bench, and people watch. Sit on a swing and swing back and forth. Read a favorite magazine or a book.
A change of scenery even if for a brief time will change feelings of caregiving becoming too much to caregiving becoming more manageable. Brief breaks throughout the day are helpful.
Engage in a hobby. Go to the library and check out books that you find enjoyable. Read inspirational magazines. Listen to music. Find a new hobby that you can take with you like crocheting, knitting, or wood carving.
Activities that interrupt stressful thought patterns are positive. Schedule and make time for you. Stop making excuses. A simple 10-minute break has benefits. Wake up 10 minutes earlier and meditate. Start with 10 minutes and work up to three 10-minute activity breaks in a single day. Work up from here. You can do this!
4 Find Ways to Use Community Resources
Aging parents, spouses, and other care receivers experience emotions similar to caregivers who feel that caregiving becomes too much. Care receivers feel trapped by having to take medications and being dependent on adult children and spouses for care.
Care receivers benefit from a routine and having a purpose in life. They look forward to interesting and pleasurable activities. In the absence of a positive daily routine, negative behaviors and depression result due to feelings of isolation and a lack of purpose. We all need a reason to get up every day and feel useful.
Caregivers coordinate care and work with medical providers and others to manage health concerns. These contacts present opportunities to ask about available community resources to reduce days when caregiving becomes too much.
Investigate Activities and Diversions
Investigate options to receive support caring for an aging parent or spouse that includes activities and diversions. Are there volunteers available who might visit to give the caregiver a break? Can the caregiver engage friends or other family members to assist with care or activities? Is there a group at the church or synagogue who visits older adults in the community?
Can a parent or spouse participate in simple volunteer work? School-age children need mentors for reading. Senior centers have volunteer opportunities, outings, weekly lunches, and activities. Many senior centers offer transportation services.
When caregiving becomes too much, caregivers feel trapped. Options to investigate ways to use community resources might be the last thing on the mind of a caregiver when caregiving becomes too much.
Creating Activities and Diversions Decreases Isolation
By talking to others in similar situations in a caregiving support group plus medical and other providers, you might come across the perfect idea to give you a regular break from caregiving responsibilities. By creating other ways for an aging parent or spouse to engage in life, you enrich their lives.
If an aging parent or spouse is homebound, books on tape, books or movies from the library or other hobbies may offer an enjoyable activity. Being home all day with nothing to do but sit around the house, results in boredom and frustration for the care receiver. These behaviors transfer to interactions with the caregiver that are not positive. After a long day of work, visiting a negative or angry parent can be a dreaded experience.
Many caregivers fail to think that an aging parent or spouse might enjoy the company of others. Care receivers become as isolated and lonely as caregivers. Investigate community resources to minimize days when caregiving becomes too much.
5 Create Pleasurable Family Activities that Support Socialization
By creating regularly scheduled family activities, caregivers can reduce days when caregiving becomes too much. Caregiving becomes too much when all of the tasks and projects outweigh enjoyable activities.
Roles and responsibilities of caregiving are all-encompassing. As mentioned above, in the Schedule Time for You category, caregivers give up social activities and time with friends in favor of caregiving time. By creating a regular event at the home of an aging parent or spouse and inviting family and friends, creating regular opportunities for socialization is possible.
Give thought to scheduling a movie or television night. Research funny and positive movies that everyone can enjoy. Humor is a positive response to stressful caregiving situations . Remember that your aging parent was once young and enjoys interacting like an equal rather than someone who is dependent on an adult child for help. If you are a spousal caregiver, think about the movies you enjoyed over the years with your spouse.
Seek out top 10 lists of movies in different categories. Make movie night an event – and a celebration of fun. Schedule the night on the same day each month so that family and friends can add the event to their schedule and plan to attend. Make popcorn. Ask others who are attending to make and bring special treats.
Create similar events for book club reading, listening to music, crafting, sporting events, looking through old family photographs, documenting family history, etc. By creating fun activities, it is possible to include socialization into the role of caregiving to avoid feelings of isolation. Rather than excluding an aging parent or spouse from gatherings, bring the gathering into the home.
Choose The First Thing To Do When Caregiving Becomes Too Much
Lists can be overwhelming. Caregivers already have long lists of projects to complete. The thought of adding one more item to the list may feel impossible—like too much extra effort. Feeling overwhelmed is common for caregivers.
The only way out of overwhelm is taking action. One day at a time—one step at a time.
I recommend choosing one of the five things above and try it out. Give it 30 days. A new habit takes 30 days to become a new habit. Be open-minded that the caregiving situation can improve.
You might be surprised how taking one step forward helps avoid the feeling that caregiving is too much. Progress helps caregivers feel more confident about caregiving skills, decision making, and planning personal needs. Choose the first thing to do when caregiving becomes too much. Give it a try and share your experience with other caregivers in similar situations.
(1) Koval, C.A. et al., The Burden of Responsibility: Interpersonal Costs of High Self-Control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2015, Vol. 108, No. 5, 650-766.
Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA is a national caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker who solves caregiving problems. Since 1999, she has been a direct service provider as a court-appointed guardian, power of attorney, and care manager. In response to the need for accessible, accurate, reliable, and trustworthy information Pamela offers online caregiving support and programming to solve caregiving problems, advance healthcare literacy, and promote self-advocacy. She collaborates with professionals in the areas of estate planning, elder law, and probate, financial planning, and healthcare to raise awareness of and sensitivity to family caregiving and healthcare issues.
© 2019 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.