Why Caregivers Need a Break

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The Caring Generation® – Episode 125 February 16, 2022. On this episode, Why Caregivers Need a Break, caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson talks about how being a caregiver for children, adults, or caring for yourself can result in stress and negative impacts on health and well-being. Learn 10 tips to reduce the stress of being a caregiver so you can create more balance and live the life of your dreams.

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Let’s answer the question of why caregivers need a break. If you’re a caregiver, you can probably think of a million reasons. Let’s start with feeling unappreciated, giving up your personal life, not having time to yourself, not getting enough sleep, not sleeping through the night without interruptions, family disagreements, plus the constant and never-ending demands from the person or persons for whom you care.

Why Caregivers Need a Break

Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel

The reasons why caregivers need a break are many. One primary reason is burnout. People in all walks of life experience burnout and many of them don’t identify with the term caregiver.

Who Are the Caregivers?

Parents raising children experience burnout. Burnout is rampant in the workplace. Adults caring for disabled or elderly parents experience burnout. Spousal caregivers burn out mentally and physically.

When you think of caregiving in broader terms, you can see that a caregiver is any person who contributes to the lives of others.

A farmer raising corn feeds livestock and consumers. Think ears of corn or canned corn. Farmers growing cotton make it possible for us to wear clothing. Then there are the things we eat every day—or should eat every day—like fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes, or nuts. Farmers in addition to their crops or livestock care for wives and children.

Husbands and wives who work to support the family are caregivers. Teachers are caregivers for students, young and old because they have a significant ability to affect motivation, adaptability, achievement through skill-building, and emotional self-regulation—very important in many areas of life—that we’ll talk more about in a moment. How many of you remember a teacher or teachers who made a significant impact on your life?

Truck drivers are caregivers because the goods they deliver benefit so many people. Healthcare workers are obviously caregivers. Every person in life that has an effect on another person positively or negatively is a caregiver because we should take care of and be kind in our approach to others.

Another example, if you have a pet you are the caregiver for that pet. That relationship is not one to be taken lightly because your pet depends on you for food and safety, similar to people in your life. Being connected to another person, animal, or thing—even houseplants and that garden in your backyard—that depend on you makes you a caregiver.

Every Action Has a Reaction: the Idea of Cause and Effect

We are caregivers for the earth through our actions. How many of you recycle, have neighborhood clean-up weekends, or volunteer to pick up trash on highways and roadways? Do you enjoy gardening and planting trees? All of these actions support the earth.

When we realize that every action has an effect on something or someone else we can learn to raise our awareness of the importance of making sure we take care of our health and well-being. If we don’t we can’t be our best for ourselves and for the people that we care for. It can be difficult to maintain a mindset of self-care when life takes over and we experience ongoing struggles.

Caregivers, whether caring for children, siblings, aging parents, or caring in another way through work or career find it difficult to make time for themselves. On some days they dream of going to sleep and not waking up the next day. I know this because these are the stories caregivers share with me. Being a caring person is not easy.

The Act of Caring is Emotionally and Physically Exhausting

We all need time for activities that we enjoy to re-energize our minds and body. The answer to why caregivers need a break is because day in and day out caregivers respond to the demands of others which results in emotional and physical exhaustion.

How many days each week are you irritable, tired, angry, resentful, upset with other people, or feel like you are fighting an ongoing battle trying to stay ahead? You’re in good company. Many people feel this way.

On the other hand, many feel happy, joyful, appreciative, loving, and satisfied in their daily lives. How do we close the gap between burnout and creating the balance that makes us feel good? I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it happen but I can’t.

Caregivers may be uncertain about actions to take, how to schedule self-care time, and feel good rather than guilty about doing things we enjoy. During this show, I’ll share ten ideas to make caregiving relationships run more smoothly so that you can take more breaks. Thoughts to close the gap between burnout and being engaged in life.

Stop Waiting and Start Living

Let me begin with a quote from Father Alfred D’Sousa to put the idea of why caregivers need a break into perspective. This piece of wisdom may be helpful if you are drained by ongoing challenges in life. Sometimes it seems that caregivers never get a break. Here’s the quote:

“For a long time, it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first. Some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

What comes to your mind when you hear this quote? That list of things you do that keep you away from that part of your life that you’re waiting to begin? Why do we think about what’s missing in life instead of appreciating what we have?

By being appreciative we can begin living for today instead of putting things off until tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. The tips I am about to share for why caregivers need a break offer specific actions anyone can take to improve parts of life that may seem like obstacles.

How was your day today – happy or filled with distress? How does distress show up in your life? Is it lack of sleep indigestion, headaches, high blood pressure, back pain, an inability to focus, or dwelling on negative thoughts? All of these and more issues result from stress and burnout.

This is why it’s important to look at the reasons caregivers need a break and consider what might be done differently. While some of these ideas might be taught in school or in the workplace we often don’t think of the benefits of translating these to the rest of our lives.

10 Tips to Relieve Caregiver Stress

1 Establish agreements for interactions

Number one is agreement about interactions in groups, families, or any type of gathering of two or more people including your friends. When thinking of agreements in a family what comes to mind?

Examples include being honest, treating others with respect, asking questions before accusing others of bad behavior. There are family care agreements that are a good idea to put on paper when children become caregivers for aging parents to manage expectations.

Things like how much time children will commit to care activities. What happens when parents need more care than children can provide? How to pay for care expenses and navigate unexpected situations that might arise.  The goal of agreements is to support positive communication and minimize unrealistic expectations.

2 Use affective statements

Number two for why caregivers need a break and what you can do about it is using affective statements. This is fancy language for telling another person how you feel when their behaviors have affected you positively or negatively—happy, sad, frustrated, fearful. The important component is to avoid blame.

As individuals we have to take ownership of our feelings and why we feel a certain way which may have nothing to do with a current interaction with a friend or an aging parent but something that happened in our lives 20 years ago. Feelings are caused by a need that we have that’s not met through the actions of another person.

Let me give an example. You are frustrated with an elderly parent who is refusing to take an action you believe would be beneficial to them and to you. The need you have is not being met. It could be mutual respect, cooperation, action, or self-discipline.

Feelings are never another person’s fault. They are an internal job.

So for example, “mom when I hear you disagreeing about the doctor’s recommendations, it makes me sad because I’d like to see you doing all the things you used to enjoy instead of spending time complaining about your health.  Can I ask you why you don’t want to follow the doctor’s recommendations?”

It can take a little practice to begin thinking and having conversations this way. But the end result is that instead of blaming or constantly feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle you might learn to understand why you and a loved one disagree and find ways to work through the issue to arrive at a positive solution.

why caregivers need a break3 Learn from mistakes

Number three for managing life when caregivers need a break is learning from mistakes. Rather than thinking of mistakes negatively, think of a mistake as anything that didn’t work out the way you expected. A missed expectation can be as simple as an agreement not being kept.

Let’s say that your brother or sister had planned to visit mom or dad on Saturday so that you could have a day off of caregiving and something came up that they could not meet that commitment. You could be angry at your siblings and vow to never speak to them again to punish them which may feel good but isn’t a good solution.

Or you could say, “I understand that something came up. Can you look at your calendar and see when we can reschedule? I’m burned out and really need a mental and physical break from caring for mom or dad.”

I’d also recommend looking at other options for getting a break. Is there anyone else you know who might give you a day off? Can you hire a caregiving agency once a week or every couple of weeks to visit on Saturday so that you have a day to yourself?

Or it may be time to look at a nursing home care or a care community if no one in the family is willing to step in to help. Sometimes just knowing that you have a scheduled break coming up can help you get through one or two really tough weeks.

4 Understand the impact of actions

Number four is understanding the impact of actions—ours and the actions of other people. This relates to our discussion at the beginning of the program.

We have an impact on everyone we meet even if it’s someone at the grocery store who we let pass in line in front of us or the simple act of opening the door for someone. There are times when the smallest interaction with another person can make us feel good.

When caregivers are so focused on everything that has to be done it can be difficult to think about how other people view our expressions or body language. Considering the way you interact with others can make a difference in how other people respond to you. The tone of voice you use, whether you are smiling, tense or relaxed.

Are people generally helpful or hostile toward you? Why caregivers need a break is that angry or frustrated behaviors can make anything more difficult to accomplish. The same can be said of the people that we care for. Think back to number two about affective statements.

For example, “dad, when you yell at me it frustrates me and makes me not want to help you. I realize that you don’t feel good today. But can I ask that you be a little more patient with me so that I feel good about being here with you making dinner—or doing whatever it is you are doing?”

Part of learning to speak in this manner is helping the person you are interacting with understand what you’re doing and why. So, “mom or dad I’m working on my communication skills so that we have a better relationship. I’m going to say some things that might put you on the defensive. That’s not my intention.

My intention is to communicate with you and have you communicate back to me so that we can work together. I know that needing care can be frustrating. Being a caregiver can also be frustrating. So rather than be frustrated with each other, let’s learn how to work together instead of arguing or disagreeing all the time.“

What do you think about that? Caregiving doesn’t have to be a do-it-yourself. You can schedule a 1:1 eldercare consultation with me. 

I know that much of this takes brain energy and thought. The mental energy that burned out caregivers may not be able to muster. Being burned out is exactly the reason you must find time to get away. If not, you will continue to burn out and run down until you can find ways to smooth out relationship bumps, overcome obstacles and start living the life you want—even if that only happens in small bits of time here and there.

Here’s a simple example. The other morning I spent about an hour watering the plants in my house, trimming leaves, and repotting a couple of plants while listening to music. That little break was just what I needed to energize myself to go on with my day as I honestly wasn’t feeling very energetic when I woke up.

Self-care doesn’t have to be something big or expensive like going for a massage, spending money on dinner out, or taking a vacation. Self-care is doing something you enjoy that’s just for you. When you begin making time for yourself every day you will begin to see the difference in your thoughts and mood which will then translate positively to your physical body, health, and interactions with other people.

5 Improve problem-solving skills

Number five for why caregivers need a break is to work on problem-solving skills. So many times what we think is the problem isn’t really the problem because we may be looking for a simple or obvious solution that doesn’t exist.

There are times when we may have to investigate or speak to others who might know more than we do about a particular subject. Any of the ideas that we are talking about here for why caregivers need a break may be something for you to investigate further.

There are times when all of us get so stuck in our ways trying to make something work that all we get is frustration. Times when even the most obvious solution or recommendation goes right over our heads.

When we find time to clear our minds it’s easier to think of or be willing to investigate solutions we didn’t want to consider before. Mental burnout and limited thinking are why caregivers need a break.

6 Make responsible decisions

Number six related to why caregivers need a break is learning to make responsible decisions. When you look at your life, how have your most important decisions worked out? Did they work out the way you expected or did they have unintended consequences that you didn’t consider?

Life is a practice field where we have the opportunity to learn every day if we are open to analyzing the cause and effect of our actions. Think of caregiving as being on a football team. Football coaches watch hours of film from games to see what worked and what didn’t work and how to create plays or actions that work. What if we could rewind our days and assess our actions? 

The process of becoming more self-aware can reduce feelings of burnout. Write down these questions to ask yourself every morning when you wake up or just before bed.

  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What am I doing that is working?
  • What am I doing that isn’t working or is making what I want to do more difficult?
  • What am I willing to change?

Notice that I said the word willing. Many people don’t want to change which is why they stay stuck month after month, year after year. They become stuck in complainer mode.

Asking yourself these questions while you are doing routine tasks can be great thinking time. Consider these questions while you are cleaning the house, doing laundry, or washing dishes.

Another idea is to write down your plans and priorities so that you can document what you do every day to move forward and see if the outcomes are the results of your efforts or unexpected events that take you off track. Do a similar exercise with what you believe are your strengths and what you want to learn along with the why.

If you don’t have a why you probably have no motivation to act. In your interactions with others ask for and be willing to accept feedback. Say to a friend, “I’m trying to be more aware of my interactions with others. Is there anything you notice that I’m doing differently? Got any suggestions for me?”

All of this feedback, planning, and self-awareness can help you learn better problem-solving skills so that you can make better and more responsible decisions. You will gain confidence by looking back at what worked and be proud of how you made it all happen.

7 Navigate conflict

why caregivers need a breakFollowing the idea of self-awareness is number seven for why caregivers need a break. It’s the ability to manage and navigate conflict. Are you good at managing conflict?

Are you able to balance your emotions or do you react or snap when unexpected events happen or things don’t go your way? Burnout results from job stress or feeling exhausted that can result in acting emotionally, feeling defensive, or that what you are doing isn’t making any difference.

When feeling exhausted, by examining habits and behavior patterns it can be possible to identify triggers that set us off. A trigger could be a loved one complaining about X, or telling you that you’re doing something wrong.

When you are tired any one of these triggers is like throwing gasoline on a burning fire that rages out of control. Navigating conflict requires the ability to balance emotions and state concerns in a manner that the other party understands.

You can still agree to disagree and come back to the issue later if you remain so emotionally charged that the discussion won’t go anywhere. Sometimes by taking a step back we can see that it’s possible we made the event a bigger deal than necessary and that there is a solution.

8 Practice empathy

Number eight for why caregivers need a break is practicing empathy. If you watch the news, you might notice that the news promotes bias, prejudice, judgment, and false information. Does watching the news make you feel good – probably not. It doesn’t make me feel good. 

Rather than being for or against an issue, if you’re really interested, investigate the issue before you believe what you hear in the news. You might be surprised. There are two sides to every story.

Just as you want someone to hear your caregiving story, you must also be willing to hear and consider the other side. Often people want the same thing, but they may not be able to communicate in a way that establishes mutual understanding or mutual interest.

How can you become more empathetic? Stop the tendency to judge and instead observe. Ask questions.

For example, “I think I am seeing this issue differently from you. What is your experience that leads you to this thought process or conclusion?”

And then listen without interrupting. It’s okay to ask more questions but never offer solutions or disagree unless you are asked your opinion.

Being more empathetic can help you manage through challenging times. It’s the idea of feeling what someone else is feeling as if it were happening to you.

If you are being empathetic you can say to someone, “I understand how you might feel that way. Can I share why I feel differently?” You will quickly see if they are interested in having two-way communication with you. 

Again you’re not trying to sway or convince. Your goal is to open the door to establishing more trusting communication so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their feelings and experiences without being judged.

9 Embrace perspective-taking

The number nine suggestion for caregivers who need a break is perspective-taking which follows becoming more empathetic. At first, it might seem like being empathetic and perspective-taking are the same ideas. They are slightly different.

Empathy is understanding the emotions or difficulties of another person. Perspective-taking is looking at a situation from the other person’s point of view. Almost like you are gathering information to debate the opposite perspective.

It’s the idea of saying I have this belief but I see why you might believe differently. And here’s why I think you might think differently. Here’s what I’m hearing you say.

Returning to the idea of decision-making. Empathy can help us understand the feelings of others but empathy is not always a component of good decision making. We can be very empathetic to the situation of a parent to the degree that we are making bad decisions about their care or where they live because we are emotionally swayed or fearful of their response.

Remember when you were young. Did your parents purposely let you make bad decisions or did they step in? I hope they stepped in and were able to influence your actions.

It’s the same in caregiving. Your parents may be making bad decisions.

You disagree and this results in a great deal of stress. But what if perspective-taking allowed you to see why elderly parents are making different choices based on their beliefs or information they have that you do not.

When you look at an opposite perspective or a point of view ask yourself why you disagree. Is there something you don’t know that you should know?

Have you fully examined both sides to evaluate whether your thinking is emotion or fact-based? There are times when we can become so focused on our own perspective, our anger, or our resentment that we ruin relationships with others because we are stubborn or we think our way is better.

10 Embracing forgiveness

A desire to maintain relationships is where number ten, forgiveness, enters the picture. Forgiveness means finding peace to go on with life even though you may not forget or excuse a harm.

You choose to refuse to hold onto anger or grudges that prevent you from enjoying the present or new experiences because your mind is not obsessed anymore with the wrong. Do you really want to live in the negative?

While you may never be able to reconcile that relationship or situation there is something to be said with the ability to move forward and stop giving the person who wronged you control over your life. You control your life. 

As you can see there are so many areas in life where it’s easy to get stuck and participate in behaviors that result in exhaustion and burnout to the point where creating a path forward can feel impossible. It’s not.

There is always a way forward if you learn to distance yourself from the negative emotions and thoughts spinning in your head and the physical effects you experience from stress. When you take breaks from life, you see life more clearly.

You can make plans to take steps to live your life and be the person you want. By considering the ten suggestions here you can also find ways to navigate caregiving tasks and balance relationships.

While I’m not saying it’s easy, you can begin to change your life beginning right now. Then check back in with me six months from now and let me know what you accomplished. I hope you accomplish great things. 

Thank you for following and communicating with me on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, and YouTube, where I have hundreds of responses and tips to caregiver and aging questions.

Please share The Caring Generation with everyone you know who is interested in proven, reliable tips, information, resources, and research about caregiving, aging, health, and everything in between.

This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Love to everyone. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and pleasant journeys until we are here together again.

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©2022 Pamela D. Wilson All Rights Reserved


About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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