Five Rights Overwhelmed Caregivers Have (But May Not Realize)

Five Rights Overwhelmed Caregivers Have (But May Not Realize)

by Karen Bromberg

 

Introduction

 

When I think back to my days as an overwhelmed caregiver, the one thing that comes to mind was how stoically I went through my days. Oh, I complained. Just ask my friends. I complained about how tired I was and how frustrated I felt. You name it. I’d complain about it.

 

But when all was said and done (and I finally finished my complaining), the one thing I typically said was “ . . . all-in-all, I guess I’m doing as well as can be expected, given the circumstances.”

 

Of course, I wasn’t. Anyone who’s done family caregiving for more than five minutes knows that I wasn’t. But what was I going to do? Tell them that my heart was breaking? Tell them that I was in tears pretty much all the time and when I wasn’t in tears, I was so angry that it took all my self-control not to throw something?

 

How could I say that?

 

First of all, I felt that most people didn’t REALLY care. I mean, they asked but I felt as though they were doing it more out of social obligation than really wanting to know. (As I came to realize, in some cases, I was 100% correct.)

 

I also felt that I wouldn’t be understood and by extension, be judged. And of course, there was the guilt. There was always the guilt.

 

My years of being a caregiver to my parents are over now and what I’ve come to realize (even more now than before) is that caregiving is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard, requiring us to have grit and fortitude, wisdom and an internal strength that those who have never done caregiving can’t understand.

 

On a daily basis it requires us to look at our positive and negative qualities, our wants and desires then take them all and push them to the side in the service of another/others.

 

That said, I’ve also come to realize that caregivers also have certain rights.

 

We have the right to:

 

  1. not want to be a caregiver.

But, of course, you do it. You care-give every day and really, you wouldn’t have it any other way. But let’s be honest, no one ever asked for it. I mean, it’s not like you woke up one day all bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited at the prospect, rubbing your hands together, saying to yourself, “oh boy, I think today I’ll be a caregiver.” No, it’s more like you were chugging along in your life, then one day – BOOM — the you-know-what hits the fan and there you are – a caregiver. Perhaps, your caregiving situation came up slowly. Perhaps you saw it coming. Even so, it probably still caught you by surprise because, really, no matter how much a person prepares, somehow caregiving ALWAYS manages to catch one off-guard.

 

  1. to be angry.

Of course, you do! There you were: being a parent, being a spouse, an employee, a daughter (or son) then all of a sudden you became a caregiver. No preparation. No instruction booklet. And now, here you are on the front-line: dealing with the medical community, dealing with the insurance company, dealing with Medicare or Medicaid. All while the person you love so much is sick or injured. You feel the pressure, having it all in your lap. Having to deal with it day in and day out. Oh, sometimes a relative or friend will step up to help you out, but for the most part, it’s all on YOU. And you get angry. Not at the person you’re caring for necessarily but at the situation itself.

 

  1. to feel resentful.

You look at others: going out to the movies, going out to dinner, going away on vacation, and see them laughing and having a good time the way you used to. Enjoying life. You feel the knot in your gut as you remember doing all the things you used to do and long to do them again. Then there are the times when you find yourself on a bus or in a grocery store or at the newspaper stand and happen to overhear folks either behind you or ahead of you online complaining about their co-workers or their boss, whining about how tough their life is. You feel the grip in your belly. You want to tell them, “Tough . . . you think your life is tough? Try not sleeping for a week because you mother keeps you up at night. Try worrying about how you are going to keep it all together because your boss is getting down on you for all the time you’ve had to take off caring for your Dad. Try figuring out how you are going to do retirement because five years ago you had to quit your job to take care of your dying wife, now that she’s gone no one wants to hire you. Try that out for size then come back and tell me how tough your life is.” Except you don’t. You bite your tongue and move on.

 

Conclusion

 

As caregivers, we so often have to navigate situations and feelings similar to the ones above. We do it so often that we can think that’s all there is. Oh, we remember better times and we may even look forward to having them again sometime in the distant future, but we assume that in the present slogging through our days is all there is.

 

Now, to be clear, not everybody is going to go through all of these at the same time – at least I hope not – but if you do, if you find that your appetite or sleep pattern is being affected by the stress caused by your caregiving responsibilities, if you find you’re dragging through the day, if you find no pleasure in the things that you used to like doing please, please, please, I beg you, seek out professional help and support.

 

Remember, while you have the right to feel all your feelings, you don’t want them getting in the way of your day-to-day life. Remember, too, that even though you are busy caregiving, you have the right to feel joy and excitement, love and a sense of wellbeing.

 

You also have the right to

 

:: ask others for help.

Now, I know this takes courage. Picking up the phone. Making that call. Asking. It sounds easy but in fact, it can be one of the hardest yet bravest things you can do. Being vulnerable. But you might be surprised. People want to help. They just may not know how. Let’s face it, not everybody is equipped to do everything. Your sister might not be comfortable cooking dinner for Mom but she might be perfectly willing, even happy, to take her to her doctor’s appointment. Your brother might not want to change Dad’s Depends but is thrilled to be able to spend one-on-one time with him while feeding him. Ideally, the best thing is to have something akin to “a committee” of people to call on; different people for different tasks. Of course, if this is not possible (because most of the time it isn’t), finding those two or three people who are willing to pitch in, then asking when you need it, can make such a big difference.

 

Not just that, you also have the right to

 

:: receive.

By nature caregivers give. It’s just who we are. It’s what we do. And it’s how we’re comfortable going through life. But giving and giving all the time can lead to our “our cups” being empty which makes it that much harder to give. If it becomes hard to give, we risk burnout. We become burnt-out, we risk becoming less effective caregivers. I know, for those of us wired to give, it takes practice to be able to receive, but it is SOOOO worth it! As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”

 

Any comments? I’d love to hear it.

 

 

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109. Want to get more information about how you can make your caregiving journey easier, simply fill out the form below and join our mailing list.

Eight Ridiculously Easy Relaxation Tips Overwhelmed Caregivers Can Do To Make 2018 A Less Stressful Year

Eight Ridiculously Easy Relaxation Tips Overwhelmed Caregivers Can Do To Make 2018 A Less Stressful Year

by Karen Bromberg

 

Introduction

 

So, it’s 2018. Can you believe it?

If you’re anything like me, you look upon this time of year with excitement, hope, relief (yes, you actually survived 2017!) and even a little bit of dread, gazing upon your care recipients, remembering with fondness what they were able to do last year (two years ago, three years ago, five and ten years ago) at this time.

You try not to think about it, but can’t help yourself yet the more you think about it, the worse you feel. 

But, there is good news and no, it has nothing to do with turning back the hand of time. It does, however, have to do with making small changes that can reap great benefits.

Needless to say, the exercise that I go over below should not be done while driving or in a public place. To that end, I recommend finding a quiet place in your home to do them.

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR REDUCING STRESS

 

  1. Spend five minutes (more if you can) every morning in meditation. Meditation is great. It allows the mind to be quiet and the body to relax. Feel free to sit up in bed, back resting against the headboard, or in a chair with feet on the floor. You can even lie down (though you may end up falling asleep). The main thing is to have a quiet environment where you feel safe (both physically and mentally), close your eyes then once your eyes are closed, focus on your breath. Repeat an uplifting phrase. No, it doesn’t have to be “OM,” but something that works for you.

 

  1. Spend at least five minutes (more if you can) in meditation before going to bed. As stated above meditation can be done sitting or lying in bed. In my experience, quieting the mind and relaxing the body before sleep allows for a far more restful slumber.

 

  1. Sit for a few minutes every day doing nothing but focusing on the breath. The inhalations. The exhalations. Feeling the cool air going into your nostrils. The warm air releasing from them. You’ll notice that the mind will be less active and your body will feel less stressed.

 

  1. Do a grounding exercise once a day. Sit comfortably, feet on the floor, and slowly look around. That’s all it takes. Look in front of you, behind you, to your left, to your right. Look up and look down. But just don’t look. Really look. See what’s there. The objects in the room. The walls. The floor. The lighting fixtures. The patterns in the linoleum. Examine any pictures that may be in the room. Tell yourself, “I am here. This is 2018 and I am sitting in my home. I am performing this grounding exercise and in this moment everything is okay.” By scanning your environment you take yourself out of your head and the scary future and ground yourself in the immediate present.

 

  1. Eat properly. I know, we’ve heard it a million times. If we don’t fuel the body well, how can we expect it to perform? But think about it. If we don’t feed it well, we force it to work harder. We force it to work harder, it becomes stressed. It becomes stressed, we end up feeling the stress. Now I’m no dietician, but the argument seems to make sense to me. If we feed the body well and fuel it properly then we’re just better able to navigate the world. But, the question is how do we do it when we have NO time? My thoughts . . . Batch kitchen tasks.

 

                                 :: Cut up all the veggies you’ll need for the week at the same time.

                                 :: Marinate all the meats you’ll be cooking for the week at the same time.

                                 :: Cook several meals at once. This is especially easy when you prepare stews or soups.

 

  1. It’s well known that exercise relieves stress. If going to a gym is not possible then do it at home. Look on the Internet, on YouTube, find something that will be fun. Put on some music and dance around your living room. You can even buy a piece of equipment and if space is an issue, no worries, there are really small ones. I have a mini elliptical which stores away in my closet. If you don’t have time, then exercise for five minutes, ten minutes, anything is better than nothing but make sure to check with your physician first, before starting any exercise program or before ramping up whatever exercise you are currently doing. Seriously. It’s important.

 

  1. Laugh everyday day. Do it even if you don’t feel like it, even if there seems to be nothing to laugh about. Get on the phone and talk to a “funny” friend. Stream a funny movie or TV show. Laughter increases serotonin (the “feel-good” chemical) in the brain, which, in turn, relaxes the body.

 

  1. Finally, allow the people in your life to help you. It’s hard, I know. Letting others do for you when you are far more comfortable doing for others. But think about it, wouldn’t it be relaxing to have someone take care of you once in a while?

 

Conclusion

The key here is to start small –  one thing at a time – and build slowly. Be gentle with yourself and remember only you know whether something is working for you or not. If it’s not, then forget it and move on.

I want to wish you the happiest of new years!

 

 

 

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109.

My Number One, Best Relaxation Tip For Overwhelmed Caregivers

My Number One, Best Relaxation Tip For Overwhelmed Caregivers

by Karen Bromberg

 

Introduction

 

I want to share a little story.

This happened many years ago. My husband and I were at this concert. No, not a Bruce Springsteen concert. Not a Madonna concert. Not even a James Taylor concert (though we did see James Taylor with Carole King at Madison Square Garden several years later).

This concert was with Paul Winter, a renowned saxophonist, with more than 40 albums, and his band, The Paul Winter Consort. It was his annual “Winter Solstice Concert” that takes place at St. John the Divine on New York’s Upper West Side.

It’s an amazing concert in an amazing space. St. John the Divine is big and cavernous, it’s “the largest cathedral in the world, making it a global landmark.” If you’ve never been, I highly recommend a visit, but I digress.

It was during the concert, specifically as Paul Winter was introducing one of his signature pieces, that this occurred. He said something that’s always stayed with me. He was talking about the significance of light in the celebration of the winter holidays (religious history and significance aside) and about how, during the darkest time of the year, we use the light from candles and bulbs, which “are kin to the fiery rites of old, which celebrated the miracle of earth’s renewal.

Blew my mind.

But what does it have to do with caregivers? And overwhelmed caregivers at that?

Wait. Keep reading. I think you’re gonna like this.

 

Darkness vs Light

 

Every year, right around this time, I remember what Paul Winter said during that concert, and yes, no doubt, it’s likely because with the sun rising around 7:15 am and setting around 4:30 pm, where I am, I’m a little light deprived.

But I have to say, it’s actually much more.

If you are anything like me, there’s a hopelessness and fear inherent in darkness. We walk down streets a little faster. Maybe look over our shoulders more often without even realizing it. We hunker down and hibernate. True, it’s partly because of the cold but if we think about it, it’s also partly because of the darkness. 

Yet every time I look at Christmas lights or at the flame at the tip of Chanukkah and Kwanzaa candles, I feel better. My spirits are lifted and I feel more hopeful and joyful. Perhaps it’s because, as Paul Winter says, they symbolize renewal and the return of the sun.

It’s this interplay between the darkness and the light, the duality of them, that was just so evident for me this year with the passing of my parents. Each time I fell into a crying jag a friend or family member invariably would remind me of my memories, and (in my father’s case, being that he passed after my mother), how “they are now together.”

Without realizing it, my family and friends were reminding me of the light.

It’s so easy for us to fall into the darkness in our lives. With so much to do day-in and day-out – we put our heads down, we stick blinders on and we focus on the task at hand, the one goal being to get to the end of the day – that we forget to occasionally let in the light. But what if we did? What if we take the glasses with the dark lenses in them off and replace them with a pair that lets in the light? What would that be like?

Maybe instead of seeing only despair, we could also see the joy? Maybe instead of only seeing the sadness that’s around us, we could also appreciate the happiness? Maybe instead of feeling hopeless at things we obviously can’t control, we can also see some possibilities? 

Imagine how different our days, weeks and months might be if we could do that? Even a teeny tiny bit. 

So okay, you’ve guessed it, my number one best relaxation tip for overwhelmed caregivers is (drum roll, please), to focus on the light. 

I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you the very best this holiday season but most of all, I want to take this opportunity to wish you love and light.

 

 

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109.

Gift Ideas For Overwhelmed Caregivers (And Those Who Care About Them)

Gift Ideas For Overwhelmed Caregivers (And Those Who Care About Them)

By Karen Bromberg

 

Introduction

So, the turkey is gone. The leftovers are a memory. With Thanksgiving now in the past (even the bruises from Black Friday have faded), we can now turn our attention to: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and the gifts we’re getting ready to give and receive.

If you are like me, getting the exact right gift for the people on you list can be quite the challenge. There are so many things to consider. Are they going to like what we got? Is it the right color? The right size? Do they still want that pasta maker they spoke about back in June or are they now, suddenly, into gourmet ice cream making? And what about little Johnny? Is he ready for his first two-wheel bicycle? Or would he like a computer game instead?

Typically, if we’re on the giving side of the equation, our goal is to get gifts that the people in our lives will enjoy. If we’re on the receiving end, while we appreciate everything, we especially appreciate those gifts that show that thought went into the gift’s selection.

Since we family caregivers often don’t know what he need or want (about anything if it pertains to our needs), it becomes that much more difficult for others to get a sense of what kind(s) of gifts will make us happy.

In previous blog posts, Caregiver Stress and Caregiver Burnout to name two, I talk about the importance of dialing back the stress and I give tips for how overwhelmed caregivers can do go about doing that.

In today’s blog post, I want to talk about how we can incorporate some of those tips into potential gifts.

 

An Overwhelmed Caregiver’s Wish-list

Imagine this, your friend approaches you. “I need your help,” she may say. “I’ve thought about it and thought about it but I still have no idea what you’d like this Christmas. I know it’s terrible of me to ask but I REALLY want to get you something you’ll love. I know this year has been so hard for you and I’d like to get you something that’ll make you smile, but I honestly have no idea what that would be. Can you at least give me a clue?”

Now, granted, most of us probably won’t have a conversation like the one I’ve sketched out above but wouldn’t it be great if we had a list at the ready, you know, just in case someone did?

And even if no one did, even if you get that kitchen item you have no idea how to use, a list at the ready could serve to solidify at least in your own mind what you’d like to get so you can give it to yourself.

That’s why I created the list below. I wanted to give you an example of what I’m talking about. Granted it’s a generic list. The main point is to give ideas and provide a jumping off point.

I encourage you to make the list your own. Take a few moments, jot down the things you like and don’t be afraid to be creative. Let you mind wander, maybe even go a little wild. Think about what would make you happy.

With all that you do day in and day out, if anyone deserves it, you do!

 

Gift Ideas

  1. Gift certificates to the movies. I love this idea. Movies are so great. Sit in dark. Escape for a couple of hours. Can it get any better than that? Movies offer us a break, taking us to far away places and introducing us to new and interesting characters. But what if your caregiving situation doesn’t permit you to leave your house? If that’s the case, how about asking a friend, neighbor or relative to stay with your caregiving recipient? Could that be a possibility? Let the person know that you need to take a break. Assure him/her that it will only be for a couple of hours. Of course, you’re going to want to make sure that your care recipient is on board and your going to want to make sure that the person you are leaving your care recipient with is responsible and knows the ins and outs of how to care for your loved one (remember-safety first). If all that is “a go,” then by all means — Enjoy and have some popcorn for me!

 

  1. But what if your loved one isn’t on board with the idea of you being out of the house? What then? What if he/she doesn’t feel safe? Well, then how about asking that same friend, neighbor or relative to come over. You could go into your room and stream a movie, or rest or read or do anything else that will allow you to recharge. The beauty of this idea is that you can get what makes sense for you and if your loved one needs to be reassured that you are around, all you have to do is stick your head out so that he/she one can see you. It’s a win-win for both you and the person you are caring for.

 

  1. Now if that doesn’t work at all, if your loved one doesn’t want you out of his/her sight and doesn’t feel safe with anyone but you, no problem. Forget the whole movie idea and instead how about a gift of month of dinners? A month of dinners, you may ask. Yes, a month of dinner. That way you can eat healthy and have it not take a lot of time. There are online services that will deliver “dinner kits,” packages that have all the ingredients already cut up. You might need to add meat or chicken. A few minutes in a pan over the flame and Voila! Dinner is ready.

 

  1. If your caregiving recipient happens to live in a facility (such as an assisted living residence or nursing home), meaning that you are not responsible for his/her care 24/7, then how about permitting yourself a total day of pampering? Calling a friend, going out for brunch then on to a mani/pedi, followed by a massage or facial. Do you like going to the theater? If so, then how about following all that up with a play? Do you prefer music? Then what about a concert? Make it a day that not only recharges your body but your soul as well.

 

  1. Or, if you prefer, how about grabbing your spouse or friend and going away for the weekend? Find someplace that will clear your mind and relax your body. Of course, you’ll have your cell phone with you – as caregivers, its part of our wardrobe. Of course you’ll check to make sure that wherever you go you’ll have cell service, it’s what we do as caregivers. If you prefer though,and  if it makes sense in your caregiving life, how about asking a relative to check in with the facility for you. You can make arrangements with that relative to get in touch should there is a problem, or if it makes YOU feel better, you can make arrangements to check in with him/her once a day while you are gone.

 

  1. But what if you’re too pooped to do any of that? How about a home spa treatment instead? There are so many options that we can choose from. Simply Google home spa treatments then create your own perfect package.

 

  1. Last, but hardly least, there are books. To my mind, there’s nothing quite like curling up with a good book to make one feel transported. And with so many choices – the good old book-book, the eBook, and the audible book – it’s just so easy.

 

Conclusion 

As I said earlier in this piece, these are all just generic suggestions. You have to tailor them so that they make sense for your caregiving situation and for the person/people you are caring for. As I always say, each caregiving situation is different and while I can propose some ideas, I can’t know what will work for you in your specific situation. Remember, when it comes to your caregiving journey and the people you care for . . . YOU are the expert!

While the holiday season can bring such joy, it can also bring confusion and uncertainly when it comes to the giving and receiving of presents. Having a list can help not only those buying gifts for you, it can solidify in your own mind what you would like.

Don’t forget. Be creative. Ask yourself, “What would I like? Who knows, maybe by just writing it down you’ll be able to call it into being.

 

 

 

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109.

Five Caregiver Strategies We Can Be Thankful For During Thanksgiving (Or Any Holiday)

Five Caregiver Strategies We Can Be Thankful For During Thanksgiving (Or Any Holiday)

By Karen Bromberg

 

 

Introduction

 

It’s not a secret that caregiving is hard – there are the decisions, the overwhelm, the loneliness, and the stress. And it’s not a secret that normal, typical, non-family caregiving stress skyrockets during major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. There’s the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking and let us not forget, the expectations and the added responsibilities.

The additional stress to our already stressful lives, as family caregivers, is enough to make us want to pretend the holidays away.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

Tips for making holidays less stressful and more fun:

 

  1. If you are hosting the holiday meal, how about:
    • Batching your work so that, for example the rinsing of veggies and potatoes can be done at the same time; the slicing and dicing done at the same time, and the boiling and sautéing done at the same time? That way you can focus on one thing instead of running around your kitchen like the proverbial “chicken with its head cut off,” spreading your energy out and exhausting yourself.
    • Cooking some things ahead of time so that on the day of, all you need to do is defrost?
    • Buy ready-made where appropriate: the apple and pumpkin pie from a local bakery; a veggie tray from a local supermarket; side dishes from local specialty shops? Remember, making your life little easier is not a sin.

 

  1. Hire a cleaning service. For my money, cleaning services are one of this world’s greatest inventions. Hire someone to do the cleaning, rubbing and scrubbing, leaving your home nice and clean and you with with energy and a non-aching back for when your guests arrive? What’s better than that?

 

  1. Delegate aspects of the meal to others. Sacrilege, I know. You like doing the cooking. You enjoy seeing your guests relish what you’ve prepared. I totally get it. But, what if instead of preparing ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING yourself (delicious as it may be), you ask your sister to bring her world class sweet potato casserole, you ask your aunt to bring her fabulous tossed salad, and you ask your brother to bring the apple streusel pie that only he can make? How about making the holiday dinner a kind of potluck? That way you can relax a little and everyone else can get that feeling of pride in watching others gobble up their food.

 

  1. Of course, you may decide to let someone else host this year. I know. Sacrilege again. But if you are tired, stressed-out and just plain overwhelmed, what if you let someone else serve you for a change?

 

  1. But whatever you do, don’t forget “let gratitude be the attitude.” Whether it’s Thanksgiving or not, whether you decide to host the holiday at your home or not, whether you decide that you’d rather be a guest in someone else’s home instead hosting in your home, the bottom line is to be grateful. It’s so easy to fall into sadness, depression, even despair around the holidays. We remember the way “it used to be” when our loved ones were healthier then before we know it we are in the middle of a black cloud. How about this year instead of focusing on the negative we focus on the positive and all the things we have to be grateful for: the joy our loved ones have brought into our lives, the strength we’ve found in ourselves which allow us to be family caregivers. But, if those don’t feel appropriate, how about being grateful for the clothes on our backs, the food on our plates and the breath in our lungs? In my experience, being grateful is one of the BEST antidotes for depression. Go ahead. Try it. You might just be grateful you did.

 

Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at staff@helpyouthru.com or via phone 929-276-2109.