How to Navigate the Work-Life Balance as Caregivers
In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge for most of us to find and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Trying to juggle all the demands on our time can be stressful, even when you aren’t a caregiver. Add in the caregiving factor and the question remains, how do you find and maintain a healthy balance between work, life and caregiving responsibilities?
Caregivers are always told to take care of themselves first, right? You know the list to achieve the proper work-life balance: eat right, get plenty of exercise, find time for “you” every day, get 8 hours of sleep a night. Sounds good. Makes sense. But is this list realistic or are you setting yourself up for failure? The truth is, each caregiver’s journey is different, and there isn’t any one plan for every caregiver to follow. There are, however, a few basic steps you can take to help plan for and manage the care of your aging loved one.
The first and most important step is to acknowledge you are a caregiver. Whether you have been thrown into the deep end of the caregiving pool or have gradually taken over that role, recognizing that you are a caregiver can sometimes be difficult. Being a caregiver isn’t limited to assisting with bathing, dressing and walking. Caregivers also assist with financial or insurance issues, attending physicians’ appointments, running errands—it’s all part of being a caregiver.
Next, accept that you need help. You don’t know what you don’t know. While you may think you have everything under control, what happens when a health issue arises and you enter into crisis mode? You thought everything was in order, but now you realize you don’t know who the power of attorney is, what medications your loved one takes or what type of insurance he or she has. No one should have to go through the process of caring for aging loved ones alone, so be proactive. Seek advice from reputable professionals about what needs to be in order so that you are prepared when healthcare issues arise. Also, are you taking advantage of all the services and tools available to you? Look into your employee assistance programs for access to resources, communicate with physicians via their portals, etc.
Communicate. Communicate with your boss, your employees, your family, your friends and your healthcare team. Help them understand your role as a caregiver and the demands it places on your time, at work and at home. They will be able to offer you better support and assistance as they come to understand and empathize with your caregiving journey.
It’s time for you to prioritize. On any given day, your to-do list at work and home can grow exponentially. It can feel like you cross one task off the list only to add three more. Those lists can be overwhelming and are often unrealistic considering what can be accomplished in a day. Instead of staring at an endless list trying to figure out where to start, break your tasks into categories. Look at time sensitive tasks, tasks that are time consuming and tasks that can be accomplished relatively quickly. Pick your top 3 tasks or focus on one task that you haven’t been able to finish. Concentrate on these tasks and cross them off the list as you finish them. When your top priority list is finished, go to the next 3. At the end of your day, put your pen down and go home at a reasonable hour. What you don’t finish today will still be there tomorrow.
One of the best ways to prioritize is to delegate. Think you’re the only one that can accomplish a certain task? Use your prioritizing skills and do the tasks that you feel are important to do yourself. Then, you’re going to learn to ask for help with some of the other things you would normally do. Ask for help at home with making dinner, doing laundry or going grocery shopping. At work, see what tasks other employees might be able to help you with and talk with them or your boss about it. I find most people want to help people in need, and it certainly helps if they understand what you are going through.
And finally, really truly, don’t sweat the small stuff. If you didn’t get that final email out at work today, it’s okay. If you didn’t sign up to volunteer at your company picnic, it’s okay. If dusting or vacuuming doesn’t get done, or you didn’t have time to cook dinner but ordered a pizza instead, it’s okay. Learn to let it go, it will be okay.
People go through caregiving journeys alone and they don’t have to. Reaching out for resources, asking for some assistance and being realistic about your situation can help you take better care of yourself. Finding a work-life-caregiving balance is hard, and keeping that balance is even harder. Give yourself a break and ask for help.
By Gayle Messmann