We’ve all heard the pep talks: a good attitude changes everything; a positive outlook can make the journey easier; optimism will carry you far; you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Whether or not we think we need the cheerleading, in a caregiver’s life attitude truly IS everything. It can make the difference between anger and patience, between contentment and dissatisfaction, between love and resentment. The question for a caregiver becomes, how do we remain positive and optimistic day after day, week after week?
As a caregiving service, we see the stress and overwhelming circumstances in the families we serve. We feel the relief they experience with the addition of just a little help. We share their peace of mind at the knowledge there is understanding and support for them. We are honored and grateful to be a source of respite and assistance for our clients and their families. But when we exit the scene, is there a way we can continue to help these family caregivers?
Here’s an offering of suggestions that might boost the needle on the optimism meter and heighten the level of honey in your days as a caregiver.
1. Accept where you are in the journey. Being unrealistic or in denial will only bring about dissatisfaction when the reality of life knocks on the door. Open the door and welcome inside your circumstances, circumstances that are unique to you and your family. You will share many challenges with other families, but because you and your loved one are unique, your situation will be one of a kind. Recognition that you will take tools and resources and forge your own path will help you be proactive and in some semblance of control.
2. Reach out for help early in the process. Even if you don’t intend to use outside help in your home for a very long time, learn your options. In caring for a loved one, information is your greatest power. Being forced to make decisions in a crisis is unnecessarily stressful and can lead to results less satisfactory than desired. Learn about caregiving services in your area, about what makes them different from each other and how they operate on a day-to-day level. Take tours of facilities, whether you think you will need that option soon or never. You are in control of this decision and you will make the best decision based on accurate and complete information. Feel like you can’t leave your loved one to meet with services or tour facilities? Ask that friend at church who is always offering to help to come stay for a few hours while you take this very important step for your family’s future.
3. Find a support group. They exist. Again, if your concern is not leaving your loved one alone, ask a family member or friend for a couple of hours of their time. Most support groups meet no more than twice monthly. People will want to help you but they may not know how. Staying with your loved one while you are able to share with others on your same path is a solid and important form of help. Ask.
4. Get some exercise. Endorphins, you know. A 20-minute trek on a treadmill or 15 minutes of dancing to your favorite music will lift your spirits and brighten your outlook. If your energy is sapped, exercise will help, as will a healthy diet. Doing the things to stave off depression and anxiety will help not only your mental and emotional health, but your physical health as well.
5. Keep up with at least one hobby. Again, this may require you reaching out for help with your loved one. But that release, that engagement, that opportunity to immerse yourself in something you enjoy, may well be the thing that allows you to keep a smile and your patience for another day or another week. If your hobby is a sport, a craft, going to movies, doing wine tastings, tutoring children – whatever it might be, schedule it as part of your life. Making it a part of your routine gives you something to look forward to, it holds you accountable to take someone up on their offer of help, and it provides a respite that can change your world.
As we have learned, caregiving is not for the faint of heart. It is something we do for our family members because we love them and want them to be contented, safe, and healthy. We want their lives to be full and engaged and untarnished by any frustrations we might be experiencing. It is a difficult balance. But attitude is everything. And attitudes can change. Optimism can be learned. Putting a positive spin on things can be achieved. Now let’s go out there and catch some flies!
-by Elizabeth Downing
About the Author: Elizabeth Downing is Director of Outreach for Timesavers Concierge, Caregiving & Chauffeur in Bowling Green. A 1982 graduate of WKU, Elizabeth found her passion in advocating and providing care for older adults and those with special needs. Timesavers seeks to raise awareness of issues relating to aging and caring for aging loved ones, and to let people know they are not alone in the journey, while working to provide the highest quality care available. Elizabeth has completed a Certificate in Care Management from Boston University, and facilitates a family caregiver support group each month. For the support group schedule, go to www.mytimesaversky.com.