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The Unlucky 13 Challenges Caregivers Face

Caregiving is a complex task with many moving parts. Caregivers often find they have less time for activities like chores, spending time with family & friends, hobbies, or running errands. Those who maintain full or even part-time employment may have difficulty in keeping a healthy work-life balance.

In all, the challenges caregivers face can be daunting. They’ll quickly become overwhelmed if precautions, plans, and proactive measures are not in place to combat the many issues that emerge.

But, fear not. Every problem throughout your caregiving journey has an equally powerful solution. If you practice the suggestions below, you’ll see that the caregiving experience has much to offer those who take on the noble quest.


Challenge 1:

Time Management

Caregivers often sacrifice much of their schedule to care for their loved one, even if it means a lesser quality of life for themselves. It’s important, then, to understand that there are ways to provide care without sacrificing your own mental and physical health. This starts with effective time management skills.

Most people who claim they don’t have enough time for themselves are unaware of how much time they waste intermittently throughout the day. Therefore, the single best time management tactic starts with keeping a daily diary.

For one week, jot down how long it takes to complete each of your daily caregiving tasks along with any periods of inactivity. After one week, you’ll have data that shows you exactly how you are spending your time each day.

Plan your next week using these estimates, allowing for deviations in each task of 10 to 20 minutes. If you’ve recorded your time properly, you’ll see gaps in your schedule to fit in other activities. Add in some of the activities you’ve previously sacrificed and, again, record how long each takes. After a week or two of adding and subtracting activities and tasks, you should have a rock solid schedule that allows for some wiggle room in case anything pressing surfaces.


Challenge 2:

Lack of Privacy

To provide adequate care, close proximity is somewhat of necessity, sometimes as close as living with a loved one. In that case, it may seem difficult to find time alone for any extended period of time.

Depending on how advanced an illness or ailment may be, some patients need round-the-clock care. Eating, bathing, light exercise, medication–these tasks can take up large chunks of a caregiver’s day.

A general lack of privacy can lead caregivers to feeling depressed, lonely even. The world feels small when you’re only interacting with your loved one everyday. Although it may be difficult to ask for help, caregivers should understand that they are not alone. There are plenty of organizations and groups available for caregivers to participate in.

Participating in social groups of any kind can make a caregiver feel like they’re not alone, offering support, feedback, and encouragement.


Lastly, and if necessary, you may want to put up some healthy, professional boundaries like asking for privacy if your bedroom door is closed. That said, caregivers should also practice patience in dealing with their loved one. Empathy, patience, and gratitude go a long way when caregiving.

Remember that not only is this the twilight of your loved one’s life, they, too, are in pain, scared, and possibly lonely. Cherish your time with them and you can find solace in each other.


Challenge 3:

Strains on Relationships

Caring for a loved one can take away time from relationships with others, just as much as it can take away time from self. Dinner dates, hobbies, and other activities with friends and family may seem difficult to attend.

Practicing honesty with others is of great importance. Let your friends know your schedule ahead of time, and if you are going to be late with an event, call in advance. Caregivers can feel like they’re a burden to their friends if they are constantly late or absent. If you are open and honest, your friends will understand.

If you have friends that don’t understand or care to empathize with your caregiving situation, then perhaps they are not truly your friends. True friends and loved ones, as long as you are forthright with your schedule, will understand and perhaps even offer to help with your caregiving duties or other tasks.

And that is another piece of advice: ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support network to take a task or two off of your hands. Offer to reciprocate in exchange for some time away from home to hang out with some pals. You’re not any less of a caregiver because you decide to take a few hours off. Treat yourself right, and take care of your close relationships.


Challenge 4:

Conflicts About Care

If you split responsibilities with a sibling, friend, or another family member, you may find from time to time–perhaps often–arguments about caregiving duties getting in the way. This is common, as conflicts can emerge regarding scheduling, level of care, medication, and more.

Caregivers can facilitate open and honest communication about caregiving duties by holding meetings once a month. These don’t have to be in-person and can take place virtually to accommodate everyone’s schedule. The general point is to discuss standard operating procedures (SOP) in caring for your loved one.

Topics discussed should include but are not limited to medication schedule, upcoming doctor visits, results of medical tests, and current prognosis. Someone attending the meeting should take simple notes to refer back to. Keeping a shared document in Google Doc is a great idea as it can be accessed from anywhere using any device.

Above all else, keep an open line of communication with others providing caregiving duties. Arguing only muddies the waters and makes the entire process more difficult rather than the intended effect, which is to make it easier for all parties involved. Be open, honest, and transparent at all times.


Challenge 5:

Conflicts with Loved One

When you’re inside all day with the same person–no matter the situation or dynamic–there is going to be tension at times. Human beings are complex creatures with a plethora of wants and needs. Sometimes these wants and needs are drastically different from other individuals, and this is where conflict emerges.

This can be even more difficult to handle when dealing with a loved one whose needs are immediate and necessary. The relationship between caregiver and patient can also become toxic if a patient begins to take the caregiver for granted, taking advantage of their kindness and asking for more than they need.

Caregivers, when faced with continuing conflicts, would do best to have a focused, simple discussion. Graciously, let your loved one know that your caregiving duties are predicated on your ability to remain calm and free of worry. Stay away from any language that sounds like you’re laying down an ultimatum. Don’t demand that your loved one does as you say.

Be willing to negotiate. Come to an agreement by the end of the meeting that should a conflict arise, the two of you will speak calmly and politely to each other instead of shouting or acting passive-aggressively. Do not compromise on this treaty–if your loved one begins to act irrationally in any way, kindly remind them of your pact.

If these measures fail, it would behoove caregivers to look into outside help.


Caregivers should covet stress management. Routinely, they may find their days not going according to plan. Problems will arise when you least expect it. Something as simple as car issues can snowball into a mess of missed appointments and dropped responsibilities.


Challenge 6:

Physical Stress

Dealing with a loved one can induce various kinds of stress that physically manifests. Pain, anxiety, even hair loss, is your body’s way of signaling that you’re overloaded with stress and need a break.

Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking a family member or friend to take over caregiving duties for two hours while you visit a chiropractor or massage studio can provide you with physical and mental relief that’s sorely needed. A brisk walk around the neighborhood is another great way to induce production of feel-good hormones and the body’s natural stress-fighting responses.

Listen to your body and practice self-care with vigor. If your body breaks down, you’ll no longer be able to take proper care of yourself or anyone else. Place your physical and mental health above all else.


Challenge 7:

Emotional Stress

Managing expectations goes hand in hand with stress management. Be careful in expecting things to go exactly as planned, and certainly do not expect other people will hav your best interests in mind. Just this small change in perspective can help you manage your mood better.

It’s also important to not let small deviations in scheduling ruin your demeanor. Schedule tiny buffers around each daily activity to prevent tasks from stacking atop one another.

If emotional stress does rear its ugly head, try healthy stress-relieving activities like yoga or meditation. Breathing exercises–where you are still, upright in a chair with your hands on your knees and measuring your breathing in timed intervals–can also do wonders for bouts of stress and anxiety.


Challenge 8:

Isolation

The daily drudgery of menial tasks associated with caregiving can leave caregivers feeling isolated. You’re normally dealing with the same person and problems day in and day out with seemingly no end in sight.

Friends and family members, knowing your situation, rarely call or text–they don’t want to bother you. Or perhaps, because you are so busy with caregiving, you stopped answering the phone, and now the phone rarely rings. You look to your loved one for support, but they’re medicated or too tired to keep up a conversation.

Many caregivers deal with these issues. If unchecked, they can lead to bigger problems like depression (more on that later) and anxiety. Caregivers deserve to be cared for, too. Unfortunately, the longer a period of isolation lasts, the harder it is to break out of its spell.


Challenge 9:

Depression

Many of the aforementioned issues are not singular issues existing in a vacuum. These problems usually come with more problems, and those problems domino down the line until caregivers are neck deep in depression, feeling completely defeated.

A caregiver’s primary task in dealing with depression relies on their ability to experiment and try new things as well as speaking to professionals who can advise.

But, first, you need to gauge the severity of your depression. Is it clinical depression or just a general feeling of malaise and lack of motivation? The former needs an evaluation from a medical professional like a psychiatrist. They’ll be able to measure your level of depression and offer treatment options that may include medication or therapy.

For a general feeling of malaise, exercise–even something as simple as a walk–is one of the best things you can do to produce feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Try a morning routine that includes light exercise, a healthy breakfast, and a half hour of quiet reading to prime your mind and body for the day. Routines and healthy habits build consistency and give the mind something to look forward to.

Journaling is a great way to blow off some steam, connect your daily actions with your larger goals, and evaluate your mood at any given time. Looking back through your journal will give you clues as to what activities give you the most energy and satisfaction. From there it’s simply a matter of doing what feels good and staying away from any negative stimulation.

The reverse of this is being wary of anything with addictive qualities. It’s easy to fall into a trap of addiction and overstimulation when feeling bad. Things like food, alcohol, and drugs are a sure-fire way to douse blue feelings but that’s a short-term solution with severe, long-term troubles.

If your depression feels too overwhelming and you need help immediately.



Challenge 10:

Guilt

Guilt can spring up from time to time in the caregiving journey, although it may not be as obvious as other emotions. Caregiver guilt normally arises during caregiving in three specific ways:

  • Guilt over inadequate care (even if only perceived)

  • Guilt over neglected relationships

  • Guilt over negative feelings towards your loved one

Tackling feelings of guilt starts with first recognizing where they’re coming from. Meditation in a quiet, dark space can be revelatory if you’re struggling with finding the root cause. As you sit in the quiet, pay close attention to any negative feelings that emerge. Instead of drowning them with happy thoughts or negative space, explore these sensations.

What incident(s) are playing in your mind? What regrets are bubbling to the surface? Let your mind wander into the uncomfortable space you normally detour around. It’s here that you’ll gain a better understanding of the feelings troubling you.

Once you have a grasp of the root issues, you can begin working on solutions. Neglected relationships can be mended over coffee. Inadequate care can be rectified by seeking outside help. Negative feelings towards your loved one can be quashed by devoting quality time to them, asking questions about their life experiences and current thoughts on any number of subjects.

Most of all, be kind to yourself. Practice self-love, self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness. You deserve it.


Challenge 11:

Fatigue

When an individual takes on the caregiving challenge, they are essentially committing to two schedules: their own and their loved one’s. Without help, many caregivers run around frantically, cramming tasks while haphazardly finishing others. At the end of the day, they feel drained with little energy to offer.

Barring a fatigue-related health condition, there are several things you can do to manage your energy better.

  • Slowly increase your level of exercise. While slow and steady does the trick for most people, if you’re struggling with fatigue, increasing your level of exercise will provide your heart, brain, and lungs with more blood and oxygen, leading to greater energy levels.

  • Drink more water. Dehydration is an energy killer and can zap you of much needed nutrients powering your body’s systems.

  • Get more sleep. This one is a no-brainer, but if you’re struggling with feeling tired during the day, be careful with what you eat and drink two hours before sleep. Caffeine, heavy meals, and alcohol can mess with your natural sleep cycle and should be avoided before bedtime.

  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day. Instead of binging once or twice per day, try breaking your meals into five to six small portions that will keep you energized without causing a blood-sugar crash.

  • Monitor caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant–this we know. But, if you imbibe large amounts of coffee each day, not only can it stay in your system and keep you up at night, you can also become addicted and seriously throw off your REM.


Challenge 12

Loss

It’s important that a caregiver has energy in order to take care of themselves first and their loved one second. Sleep loss or lack of deep sleep can wreak havoc on a caregiver’s life, leading to poor energy levels throughout the day. This, in turn, leads to half completed tasks, unscheduled daytime naps, falling asleep at work, and even dangerous behavior like falling asleep while driving.

If faced with a caregiving situation where you have to wake up to care for your loved one several times throughout the night, it may be difficult or nearly impossible to get a full night of sleep. In this case, caregivers need to efficiently manage the energy they do have. Overloading your schedule only leads to burnout or worse.

For those who cannot seem to manage any more sleep than they already are, a simple caffeine supplement can help, but be careful not to overdo it. If the day allows for it, try to schedule a power nap. Stay away from sugar, carbs, and processed foods. Complex carbs in vegetables, beans, and whole grains can provide extra stores of energy and should be consumed daily.

Everyone has unique needs when it comes to nutrition and rest, so experiment a bit with a few suggestions and see what works best for you.


Challenge 13

Finances

Caregiving can be extremely expensive, almost too much for one person to manage. Medication, medical devices, transportation, and surgical procedures are costly. Many caregivers have to get more than one job in order to make ends meet.

Finances remain a make or break issue for many in the caregiving community. If an individual cannot afford to fund the caregiving process, there simply are very few options other than outside help.


Challenge 13:

Health Risks

Health risks associated with caregiving include (but are not limited to) stress, sleep issues, a weakened immune system, depression, and anxiety. These risks are normally attributed to a confluence of factors like lack of help, lack of rest, finance troubles, poor self-care and more.

Taking action on the previous suggestions can tackle many of these issues and prevent them from stacking upon another until they turn into a serious health threat. Stress alone, for instance, can spur on serious mental and physical health issues that can sabotage your caregiving efforts and your ability to care for yourself.

If you’re a caregiver and you feel that your health is failing, the most important thing to do is get a checkup with your primary care doctor. Tell your doctor that you want a full nutrient and biomarkers check. This test will help you and your doctor understand your baseline health status and provide important information on how to proceed with any healing efforts.

Whatever you do, don’t wait until your health issues become a massive problem you cannot reverse. Treat your body like a temple and it will take you far. And, remember, it’s not only you counting on your health, but your loved one, too.

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