Though it might surprise you, there are over 8 million caregivers in Canada. This means that at some point in our lives, there is a high likelihood that each of us will step up to provide care to a loved one or family member.
Caregivers are so important, though the responsibility often requires sacrifice many of us can’t comprehend. The call to stepping into a caregiving role can arise out of the blue, which is why I believe it’s important to recognize this role, and offer some guidance to those who may find themselves in this situation and struggling to adapt.
First of all, what’s a caregiver?
Sonya K. Singh, a corporate executive turned caregiver defines it as such: Though there are several definitions, a caregiver is essentially a family member who is unpaid and taking care of another family member who is either sick, aging or with illness.
Becoming a caregiver can affect your life in various ways. For one, many have to give up their career in order to care for their loved one every day. It can be difficult to acclimate to the loss of a career; it’s something you’ve worked hard for, and is a part of your identity. The loss of a paycheck is another aspect to this issue. If your family member is sick, caring for them may entail various treatments and appointments, which can weigh heavy on a caregiver, financially.
For those who continue to work, it can be equally as difficult, much like having two jobs. It can greatly disrupt normal work routines; four in ten employed caregivers indicated that they arrived to work late, had to leave early or take time off during the day to care for their ill family member.
Becoming a caregiver can also deal a hit to your social life. Simple everyday constants, like meeting friends for drinks or going to a concert may no longer be possible. According to Statistics Canada, one in ten caregivers spend 30 or more hours of care a week. For a single individual, dating might seem impossible. The lack of time, the responsibility – it’s a hard subject to approach with a prospective love interest. If you’re a parent, it can be hugely difficult to balance time between caregiving and spending time with children and your spouse. In fact, six in ten caregivers spending 20 or more hours a week on caregiving felt they were unable to spend as much time with their children as they would have liked.
Coping with the responsibilities of caregiving can often leave caregivers feeling worried or anxious. This is a role that comes with a lot of stress, and feelings of isolation. As the intensity of the demands for care increase, so do the physical and emotional consequences. Some caregivers even reported disturbed sleep, and a loss of appetite.
Now that we understand the effects caregiving can have on one’s life, health and relationships, let’s look at the ways you can cope with the stresses of this role.
1. Take time for yourself, even if it’s just ten minutes. Do something that relaxes you, or makes you happy.
2. Realize that you’re not super-human. Cut yourself some slack on the matters that are beyond your control. You’re trying your best.
3. Look into assisted living, and do the extensive research that gives you peace of mind. And if you are considering moving your family member to a senior living community, don’t feel guilty. Sometimes it’s impossible to provide the full-time care your family member may need.
4. ACCEPT HELP. And don’t be afraid to ask for help either.
5. Meditate. Meditation is a great way to check in on yourself and quiet your mind from everyday stresses. This is a great way to manage stress.
6. Socialize when you can – If you have a free evening, take some time and spend it with your friends. Sometimes being surrounded by your squad is the best medicine, and will help you maintain your sense of self.
7. Be present. Though you are in a caregiving role, remember to actually spend quality time with your family member and not always focus on their illness.
8. For those of you feeling awkward about dating – be straight up about your situation, and only make time for those who are worth it. Choose those who are understanding of your responsibilities and who bring light into your life.
To learn more about the experience of becoming a caregiver, be sure to check out this episode of the The Dating and Relationship Show.