Everywhere you look, September is crunch time. From making sure the little ones have an army of freshly-sharpened pencils, to bracing for the inevitable uptick at the office as everyone returns from holidays – it’s a busy time.
Layer in the added fact that you’re a primary caregiver for an aging loved one, and the post-Labour Day rush can feel like one of the year’s biggest pain points. There’s simply more to do in all parts of our lives, in addition to the ongoing support we’re already providing at home.
We know that seniors – especially those navigating the grips of dementia – can benefit from staying socially connected. True too, for caregivers. Maintaining your own network of family and friends, and tapping into them for help, is important. The old adage goes: you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but it’s essential. Especially at peak times like this, when the going can get a lot tougher.
We’re offering four myth-busting tips to help you cross the bridge from needing help to actually getting the help you need:
Myth #1: It’s easier to do it myself.
An oldy, a goodie, and definitely a myth to let go of. Stop assuming that small things are harder to delegate than to handle. Start accepting that many hands really do make for light(er) work. It’s hard enough to ask for help. Don’t layer on additional guilt over something being so minor it wouldn’t even be worth delegating. Letting go of just one or two small things a week can ease the load, and do wonders for your own mental health. How do you get help? Think about your friends and family and identify one person you could ask to spend just one hour of time with your loved one this week. While they’re having a visit, you’ll have freed up 60-minutes to tackle something else. And if that something else is simply a rest, that’s more than okay. It’s a necessary part of caregiving.
Myth #2: I can be all things to all people.
Great concept, but simply unrealistic. Being a caregiver to an aging relative or friend is a lot. Layer in work commitments, kids’ schedules, your own household, volunteer, social or fitness commitments and it can simply feel like too much. Sometimes, making the most of getting a helping hand starts with identifying where you’re actually at best and highest use. If you can make the greatest impact by visiting your loved one regularly, and attending all their medical appointments, then you might want to start outsourcing housekeeping duties or meal preparation. If you find the load of errands is piling up, there could be an online shopping option that’s going to save you time. Spreading yourself thin across every task under the sun isn’t always the best approach. How do you get help? Write out your weekly caregiving commitments, and highlight the problem areas. Anything that feels like a real struggle, or that can easily be done by someone else, should make the “help needed short list”. Then, give some thought to how much outsourcing you can, or can’t, do. If there’s a budget for certain areas, use it. If not, consider who can step in on some of those tasks, and start thinking about how you’ll bring them into the fold.
Myth #3: People don’t like to help.
You already know how this story plays out. Step 1, you invite friends for dinner. Step 2, they offer to bring something. Step 3, you decline, and eventually end up overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks to be done before they arrive. Chaos ensues. We’re all prone to biting off more than we can chew. But as caregiving responsibilities ramp up over time, it’s simply not a feasible or sustainable way to live. How do you get help? First thing’s first, accept the fact that people like to help. In fact, it makes us feel good. If someone in your network is already offering, there’s no reason not to take it. They’re offering because they want to, and that’s okay. If you’re not swamped with offers, tap into the local volunteer network. From Meals on Wheels to Nova, many organizations focus on serving the senior population. Make use of them. If you’re still stuck, start honing the fine art of asking – thoughtfully, and deliberately – for help. Think about who could make a real difference, and then be very specific in your ask. As in: “I could really use some help this week and I’m wondering if you might be able to squeeze this in for me. Is there any chance that on your way home from work next Tuesday, you could pick up X at soccer, too, and drop him back on your way home? It would really help as I need to be at a doctor’s appointment with my dad.” You’ll be surprised how far a good ask for help can go. Even further if you thank people with something as simple a cup of coffee or a hug. Progress starts with accepting that people want to help. If they haven’t offered, it might be because they don’t know where to start. You can take the lead.
Myth #4: We can take things day by day.
All of us need to bake a certain degree of flexibility into our daily lives if we’re going to not only survive, but thrive. Also this: what gets written down gets done. September is a natural opportunity to refresh that oversized calendar, and make it a living, breathing document in your house. Literally pencilling in everyone’s commitments – including yours as a caregiver – doesn’t just help you map your time. It will show you, by virtue of those over-crowded little squares, where getting help isn’t just optional; it’s absolutely necessary. How do you get help? Set a reminder for 15 minutes once a week, and use that time to update the household calendar. Highlight any day where the load is simply too much, and then tap into your network or volunteer groups for help. While you’re at it – be sure to pencil in one hour of something you love. Caregiver respite is often overlooked. But without it, everything stops. Don’t be afraid to prioritize it. Even small doses of rest and recovery count.