Surviving Caregiving: Seven Ways to Set Limits


Surviving Caregiving: Seven Ways to Set Limits

John_Falconer_Slater_The_Flower_GardenYou probably hear a few pieces of advice over and over:

Take care of yourself.

Set limits.

The advice sounds so simple. And, yet, in practice you can wonder what in the world it really means. This week, let's talk about setting limits; tomorrow, we'll tackle self-care. I believe when you understand your limits, you naturally move into taking better care of yourself.

It's hard to know your limits in caregiving because a caregiving day seems endless. It doesn't begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You're either providing care, thinking about how to best provide care, looking for someone to provide care, trying to understand how to provide care or worrying that you can't provide the right care. And, that's in between managing the medical crises that seem to come again and again.

In a situation that doesn't end, how can you add limits?

A few suggestions:

  1. We are most productive when we take regular breaks. Your daily breaks don't have to be significant or dramatic. They can simply be a few minutes every few hours with your eyes closed. Throughout your day, stop to enjoy quiet time.

  2. Our will power has a limit. Think how you feel when you haven't eaten in five hours. You can't help yourself—you don't have the will power to walk away from the cookies and donuts. It's the same in caregiving. When you've spent too much time with your caree or difficult family members, you can't walk by without making a comment which pushes a button and leads to harsh words. Everyone needs space so be sure to give that space to everyone as often as possible. Talk a walk outside. Get coffee by yourself. Make a phone call to a friend. As soon as you feel your eyes roll, remove yourself from the situation.

  3. Delegate being “on-call.” The middle of the night phone calls will wear you out. Delegate who's on call to other family members as often as you can so you can regularly get a good night's sleep.

  4. Set up caregiving office hours. Family members may call for updates whenever they feel the need. Let them know when you are available for phone calls, such as between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Calls after that will go to your voice mail.

  5. Understand that you can only go 24/7 for so long before you will lose your mind. In November of 2011, @Kathy bit the bullet and took a week off for the first time in five years. She loved it so much that she scheduled another break—this time for two weeks—in September 2012. Her next break will be next month on our Caregiving Cruise. Schedule it, plan for it, then take it. It's tough the first time, but it does get easier.

  6. Look to hire help for those tasks and responsibilities which wear you out. And, hire out what you believe you should be doing, like house-cleaning or snow removal. It's okay to let someone else take care of it.

  7. Choose how you spend your time outside of caregiving. Say “yes” to what energizes you. Say “no” to what drains you. A former family caregiver recently explained that caregiving can seem to take away your choices. Add back your choice by choosing how you spend your time away from caregiving.

Finally, let others do. I often think of Beth, who cared for her mom at home until her mom's death. Beth struggled with letting others step in to help. A few nights before her mom died, Beth's husband fed Beth's mom. Beth later expressed regret that she wasn't the one who fed her mom her last meal. But, the truth is that her husband now has a a memory of helping, of being involved, of being there during the end. It's important to let others have these memories. And, while it seems endless, caregiving ends. Involve others before it's too late.

What limits do you set in your caregiving role? Please share in our comments section, below.


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