Laverty offers some tips to help caregivers cope with these thoughts, and learn how to let go:
1. Make the decision that your life matters. Because they are so consumed by caring for their loved ones, caregivers are notoriously poor when it comes to taking care of themselves. According to Laverty, the only way to get rid of the obsessive, “on call,” mentality is to decide that you matter just as much as your loved one does. It won’t be easy, but deciding that you, the caregiver, deserve to have peace, tranquility, and calm, is the first step towards being able to make the most of your time away from your loved one. “No one is going to do caregiving the way the primary caregiver does, and that’s ok, as long as the person is being cared for,” Laverty says.
2. Ask for help, more than once. A common caregiver lament is that they can’t find anyone to help them. When caregivers tell Laverty that their family/friends refuse to help, she replies, “When was the last time you asked?” It’s true that people may not be able to shoulder a significant portion of the caregiving burden, but Laverty says that an important part of asking for help is accepting how your friends and family show up. For example, your sister may not be able to help you with the day-to-day care of your mother, but she might be able to cook a week’s worth of meals for you—this is how she is showing up to help you and your mother. If you demonstrate your appreciation for the assistance that others give, no matter how seemingly insignificant, it might make them more likely to seek other ways to help you in the future.
3. Decide to really be “gone.” Being “gone” means that, barring an emergency, you completely remove yourself from the situation of being at your loved one’s beck and call. Making the decision to relax and truly be gone may be even more difficult for a caregiver than agreeing that you matter as much as your loved one does. Laverty attributes the trickiness of this endeavor to the fact that a caregiver’s mind is constantly in “fix-it” mode. When you’re taking care of an elderly loved one, it can be hard to accept that you often can’t “fix” what’s causing them pain. What you can do is help make them happier, healthier, and more comfortable. “When you stop trying to fix everything, it gets so much easier to relax,” says Laverty.
4. When you have the time, do something you enjoy. The key to successful relaxation, according to Laverty, is doing things that bring joy back into your life. This will mean different things for different people. For some it might be taking a hike with a good friend. For others, it could be getting a manicure, or a massage. “When you’re engaging in joyful activities for yourself, it’s hard to stay stuck in the ‘What if’s,’” Laverty says.
Learning how to let go and unwind will likely be a difficult process for most caregivers.
Laverty cautions caregivers that being alone with your thoughts may not be a pleasant experience, at first. Ugly, scary emotions are likely to surface, but they have to in order to find peace. She suggests therapy, journaling, and meditation as a few ways to help a caregiver cope with these difficult feelings.
Ultimately, true relaxation is about discovering how to connect with (and love), yourself—warts and all. “Caregivers need to learn how to be easier on themselves. You don’t have to be perfect,” Laverty says.
If you find that your caregiver guilt is provoked by this notion, Laverty recommends quelling it by asking yourself this question:
Why are you more into caregiving than you are into having joy, peace, and serenity?
Relaxing: Why It’s Hard, and How Caregivers Can Learn to Unwind originally appeared in AgingCare.com.