Change is Good: Overcoming the Monotony of Caregiving
Do you ever feel like time is standing still? That one day is just rolling into another and life feels dull? Caring for an older loved one can feel very much like that. Caregiving can be a life of routine, sameness, monotony and boredom. The everyday mundane tasks begin to take a toll on our emotional, mental and physical health.
This creates an interesting problem. A set daily routine is important for seniors as they age, especially those with memory and cognitive issues. A daily routine reduces our older loved one’s stress and anxiety, allowing them to feel safe and secure. But that same routine leaves us feeling stuck and unable to do the things that fulfill our own wants and needs. We feel numb and empty.
How can we provide the continuity our loved ones need while taking the monotony out of our day and bringing joy back into our lives?
1. Change it up. Vary the way you do things. Although your loved one may balk at the idea of having their routine change, that doesn’t mean you can’t change the way you do things. Sometimes, it’s the small things that get us through the long days. Do your grocery shopping at a store you’ve never been to. Get outside and take a walk (if you can’t leave your loved one alone, just step outside and breathe in some fresh air). If you are running errands, take a new route. Instead of watching TV, read a book, do a jigsaw puzzle or find a video for a yoga stretch.
2. Meditate. I read that adding the word ‘meditation’ after to whatever you are doing can keep you focused on the present moment, reducing stress and keeping you engaged. You are shifting your focus from the broad overwhelming task of caregiving to a narrower single task; i.e. filling out medical forms…meditation, sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office…meditation, helping your loved one get dressed in the morning…meditation.
The Five-Senses Meditation, which can be done almost anywhere, helps you notice what you are experiencing at that moment. You consciously focus, one at a time, on what you hear, see, feel/touch, taste and smell. See “A Meditation for Exploring Your Senses" by Cara Bradley for more information.
3. Listen to music. Explore different genres. Make playlists of the songs that always make you smile and lift your mood or relax and soothe you. Music can have a profound effect on our mood and how we are feeling. It decreases anxiety, pain, heart rate and blood pressure.
4. Jot down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is a safe and cathartic way to release the stresses of the day. Keeping a daily journal is more about the process of writing than it is about the final product; it allows you to let go of your fears and worries. It gets those negative thoughts out of your head and down on paper.
5. Psychologist Martin Seligman suggests taking time each day to acknowledge what you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be fancy or involved; just think of one to three simple statements a day such as, “I’m grateful for my friends and family.” By doing this, even during the most difficult times, your gratitude acknowledgment will help keep things in perspective and keep you grounded.
6. Start an audio and/or video family legacy project. Record your loved one talking about their life and the life of your family. Or work on collecting and preserving family recipes or pictures making those into a book to share with other family members. If you would want professional assistance with this, Capsule of Life may be able to help. It can be as simple or as complex as you would like. Here is an article highlighting the benefits, 9 Reasons Why Reminiscing Can Benefit Seniors.
7. Consider respite care (aka-short term care). Informal respite care can be asking a family member or a friend to be a companion to your loved one for a few hours, so you can get out and do something you enjoy. Formal respite services include in-home care services, center-based services such as adult day care or overnight/weekend services at an assisted care, personal care or memory care facility. Respite care can give you the break you need from your caregiving responsibilities.
Not all caregivers have the time or luxury for a weekend getaway or even a dinner out, but there are ways to add variety to your life; taking you out of living the same day over and over. Ignoring depressed, listless feelings can lead to irritability, poor sleep, illness, trouble coping, stress eating and/or substance abuse, etc. Finding ways to break up your day-in/day-out routine can help alleviate caregiver burnout.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,