October is National Work and Family Month, and we would like to acknowledge and thank our working caregivers. According to AARP, there are an estimated 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S. providing more than 37 billion hours of unpaid care to a parent, spouse/partner, or other older loved one. And approximately 6 out of every 10 caregivers are employed outside the home.

According to AARP, there are an estimated 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S. providing more than 37 billon hours of unpaid care to a parent, spouse/partner, or other older loved one.

Caregivers devote a large amount of their time, energy and resources in caring for another person. Caregivers pass up career opportunities, promotions and personal time with friends and family. Caregiving is life-disrupting, frustrating and heart-wrenching. It is time-consuming, exhausting, frightening and depressing.

No one asks to be a caregiver. Just like no one asks to be sick or dependent on someone else. But here we are. What can we do to make this journey easier?

A caregiver's world requires balance; a balance between work, family and caregiving responsibilities. But here's the thing about caregiving: you are never in balance for very long. Things are constantly changing. To find balance you'll have to adapt as your stresses and challenges change. This is done by reviewing, evaluating and assessing your priorities.

Here are a few key ideas to help:

  1. Set boundaries for yourself and for others. Determine what you will and won't do and how much time you have available. Remember,it's OK to say No. These boundaries will ensure you are able to continue to provide the help and assistance your loved one needs, while you provide the support your family deserves and you meet the responsibilities of your job. Rely on your 'gut'. If you are continually tired, irritable or have a difficult time making decisions you have probably ignored yourself and your limits.

  2. Take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. It's important to make time for yourself and for your other relationships. Take time out of EVERY day to do something that you find pleasure in - taking a walk, meeting up with friends for coffee or dinner, finishing that book you started last year, watching a movie or going to a concert. Be vigilant about eating well and getting regular exercise - in order for you to care for someone else you need to be strong and healthy.

  3. Focus on the things you can control rather than stressing over the things you cannot. Sometimes we are limited in what we can do but spending time dwelling on the things we can't change won't make a difference at the end of the day.

  4. Stay 'in touch' with yourself and learn to recognize the signs of stress*. We need to acknowledge our feelings and know that we have a right to ALL of them. It's OK. As caregivers we all have dark days, black moods and anxious feelings. Being patient with yourself is important. We are just human and we are going to make mistakes. One outlet to consider is to keep a journal. It is a safe and cathartic way to release the stresses of the day. Click here to learn more about the benefits of journaling and how to start. There's even a book dedicated to journaling for caregivers called, "You Want Me to do What?" 

  5. Seek and accept help from others for both you and the person you are caring for. If family and/or friends offer to help, let them. You need to 'support your support system' and give it time to work. Everyone does things a little differently, but if you continue to be of the mindset "it's easier if I do it myself" after a while your support system will quit offering to help. Spread the responsibility, you don't have to go this alone. Also, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Caregivers are prone to depression and increased stress due to exhaustion, worry, and continuous demands. Sharing your feeling will reduce those dark feelings and sense of isolation.

We need to take responsibility for our own care. It's not selfish! Keep saying that to yourself! Perfect practice makes perfect!

*Signs of caregiver stress

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability

  • Feeling tired and run down

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Feeling resentful

  • Neglecting your own needs

  • Feeling hopelessness and helplessness