Making the decision to move a spouse or aging parent into long-term care is one of the most difficult decisions families make. Guilt, resentment, confusion and relief are just some of the emotions caregivers experience. Many families tend to underestimate how difficult the transition can be and often find themselves practically and emotionally unprepared. [Read more…]
By Wendy Johnstone
“New to the caregiver support group, I was so nervous and skeptical about attending. My doctor suggested I give it a try. They were all strangers to me; I wasn’t sure if I wanted to open up about my wife’s disease. As I walked to my car after the meeting, I felt a big weight lifted from my shoulders. The difference: even though my role as a caregiver was unchanged; I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. I came as a stranger, but I left feeling like I was part of a family.” [Read more…]
Caregiving often involves physically demanding tasks. It requires conscientious care for your loved one – and for your own health. Performing tasks in a way that minimizes stress on your body can help prevent injuring yourself and the person for whom you are caring. [Read more…]
By Wendy Johnstone
Chronic pain can be overwhelming. Chronic pain is different for everyone and finding out what works to help manage it might take some trial and error. Caring for someone else while in pain adds an extra layer of complexity. Sarah, 55, lives with fibromyalgia and is a caregiver to her spouse who is recovering from a stroke. She is in pain most of the day and fights her fatigue. Sarah feels frustrated because her husband can’t see her pain and often forgets about her disease. She often feels anxious about the future and overwhelmed with her life. Given her circumstances, it’s a normal response. However, there are things Sarah and other family caregivers in pain can do to ease their struggle.
Put yourself first: Prioritizing self-care isn’t easy. Caregivers can especially feel they need to do it all or feel guilty about taking time for themselves. One of the best places to start is simply being kinder to ourselves with the same understanding and care we’d give to a friend, a stranger or the person for whom we are caring. Doing this one thing can lead to increased resiliency and better coping.
Pause before saying yes. Sometimes we just say yes automatically. We feel emotionally tied to a situation or we feel an enormous amount of guilt, and before we think about what saying yes may involve, the word slips out of our mouths. Sometimes, this ends up following us and becomes a standard we try to attain or maintain long term.
Draw the line: Setting boundaries and being a resilient family caregiver is about recognizing the importance of our own life, especially if trying to manage chronic pain. Striving towards caregiving within our limits isn’t easy, but it is necessary. It doesn’t mean we aren’t dedicated to caring. Quite the opposite. Setting boundaries allows caregivers to continue caring with compassion and devotion, instead of feeling lost or consumed by their caregiving role.
Watch your language: Dealing with chronic pain brings up a range of emotions. Sarah expressed her tendency towards negatives feelings. Acknowledging that life is imperfect and holding space and comfort for ourselves in the face of difficult times is a fine balance. Research shows that dwelling too long on negative thoughts can make it more challenging to move forward.
Unplug from being a caregiver: It may start with 10 minutes a day and could be as simple as having a cup of coffee or tea to create a pause in the day. The key is plugging into something that provides pleasure and peace and a chance to step away from your responsibilities amid your own pain.
Live Plan Be offers free online self-management tools for people living with chronic pain. Find out more at www.liveplanbe.ca
By Wendy Johnstone
Family caregivers often struggle with not knowing how to speak up and get their message across to key people involved with the person for whom they are caring. Being assertive with effective communication skills is about knowing what you want to say at the right time to the right person.
We’ve all had those days where we’ve thought to ourselves, “Hmmm… That conversation did not go the way I wanted it to.” Our ability to communicate can easily be derailed when we are under the stress of an emergency or trying to balance work, parenting and caring for an aging parent. Rushing a conversation, making assumptions about the other person or not being present in the dialogue are common culprits in miscommunication and conflict.
Yet, as family caregivers, the role of being a care recipient’s voice and key support person is critical. Having the best understanding of what an aging parent or spouse needs, inside knowledge and experience benefits everyone; a family physician, home support staff, other family members and concerned neighbours.
Being assertive and clear is often required for effective communication as a caregiver. It is an acquired skill that can be learned and maintained with frequent practice. It does require patience.
Being assertive aims at equalizing the balance of power, not in “winning the battle” by putting down the other person or rendering him/her helpless. It also involves expressing your legitimate rights as an individual. You have a right to express your own wants, needs, feelings and ideas.
Think ahead of the conversation about what you need to get (versus what you hope to get) from the discussion.
Ask yourself, “What is my bottom line?” Check in with yourself before starting a conversation. What are your feelings and reactions to the situation and the others involved. Although time-consuming, it can be very helpful to go over probable reactions and mapping out strategies or responses to keep the conversation moving forward while keeping inflammatory reactions to a minimum.
Life would be simpler if we were all mind-readers! Until that happens, being clear, concise and direct is the next best thing.
Practice active listening; limit your talking, maintain eye contact and acknowledge the others’ concerns and questions.
Clarify statements you don’t understand. “I don’t understand what you mean by that. Can you tell me more about what you are thinking?” Also, be prepared to clarify statements you make.
Have your questions or information you’d like to convey ahead of the appointment or conversation. It really helps to keep the conversation focused and on task.
It’s not only about what you say, but how you say it. Remember: other individuals have a right to respond to your assertiveness with their own wants, needs, feelings and ideas.