Managing the needs of aging parents is a top personal stressor, according to a 2018 survey of clients accessing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services at Morneau Shepell, a Canadian company that takes an integrated approach to employee assistance, health, benefits and retirement needs. However, it doesn’t have to be: Caregivers can survive and thrive as they navigate family responsibilities and alleviate common pitfalls that come with being the person your loved one relies on for help.
Male and female caregivers seek help for different reasons. “For women, it’s very classical,” says Sara Marchese, Morneau Shepell’s clinical director, professional services. “Historically, they have taken on more caregiving responsibilities. They feel the strain of caring for a spouse, children and aging parents simultaneously.” How to manage everything and keep all the balls in the air is often a dilemma.
Men generally seek more practical information about resources. Putting supports in place is time consuming, even more so when their loved one is remote. Marchese say that finding a case manager or healthcare navigator who can arrange quality care on their behalf is often what men need.
Caregiving can take a toll
“Some of the early warning signs that things are becoming imbalanced and an individual’s ability to manage everything is becoming more tenuous would be things like poor sleeping patterns, headaches, lingering colds, or illnesses, and social withdrawal,” says Marchese. This can eventually lead to burnout.
Struggling with additional responsibilities can leave caregivers feeling mentally or physically depleted. “Any time you’re experiencing anxiety, it can potentially disable people from being able to make decisions that they feel comfortable with and confident in,” she explains. Some people are so paralyzed by the prospect of making a poor decision that they put it off altogether.
“If there was a lot of give and take and mutuality then they are more likely to be flexible and be able to withstand periods where you need to put more of your attention elsewhere.”
Carer-employees may struggle at work. They may take more time off or call in sick. And, their performance can suffer if they need to attend to caregiving responsibilities that can’t wait. They can be distracted and, depending on the kind of work, this distraction can put safety at risk.
The toll on personal relationships
Caregiving responsibilities can strain relationships with partners, children and friends. “There is only 24 hours in a day and there’s all these additional responsibilities which for most people can’t easily be added to the list of things that they need to attend to,” says Marchese. “Any time you have other things that are on your mind that are ongoing means you can be distracted thinking about those things rather than being as present in the relationships.”
The important people in a caregiver’s life potentially experience loss or abandonment. They can also quite honestly experience resentment or frustration. Relationships that were rocky before can become rockier. “If there was a lot of give and take and mutuality then they are more likely to be flexible and be able to withstand periods where you need to put more of your attention elsewhere,” she notes.
5 tips to help caregivers cope and thrive
1) Embrace your role
Become comfortable using the word ‘caregiver’ to describe yourself to family and friends. This will help them to appreciate your new responsibilities. Be proud of your positive contribution to the wellbeing of somebody close to you.
2) Schedule caregiving responsibilities
Try to schedule caregiving like you schedule other commitments. Planning, as much as the situation allows, helps you protect time to be present for your family and friends. Prioritizing will hopefully avoid realizing too late that you didn’t spend as much time with people you care about as you wanted to.
3) Communicate your commitments
Let others know your caregiving demands in the short term and longer term, so they can better predict your availability. Communicating your care responsibilities to your employer, and figuring out things like alternate work arrangements or flexible vacation days to deal with unanticipated demands can help you manage better.
4) Stay healthy
Get enough sleep, eat right and exercise. Staying healthy will help you better care for others. Being able to think positively will help you wake up each day with the confidence of being able to handle whatever comes your way.
5) Share your story
If you can talk to friends and coworkers and neighbours about it, you’ll be amazed at how you can learn from others who have also walked this path – and how much emotional support they can provide so you feel less alone on this journey.