It’s hard to overestimate the impact of caregiving in the US today. Approximately 41.8 million adult caregivers assist someone over the age of 50. Families often provide care at the expense of their jobs and their health because there’s no uniform caregiving system in the US. You may pay for care, receive care through an insurance policy, provide the care yourself as a family member, or some combination of the three.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Is Caregiver Relief or Respite Important?
- How to Give Your Caregiver a Break
- How to Give Yourself a Break If You’re a Caregiver
The complexity of caregiver duties continues to increase, with shorter hospital stays and fewer options for insurance-covered care. But there are still some things that you as a caregiver can do to get some relief. One of those steps you can take is seeking out caregiver respite or relief.
It will take commitment and the belief that taking care of yourself is just as valuable as taking care of your loved one. In fact, by taking time for yourself, you can be a better and healthier caregiver, which ultimately benefits your loved one, too. Here, we’ll outline 14 methods you can use to find relief as a caregiver.
Why Is Caregiver Relief or Respite Important?
Caregiver relief and respite are crucial components of preventing caregiver burnout. Without them, it’s next to impossible to maintain your mental and physical health.
Conservative estimates report that 20% of family caregivers suffer from depression, which is twice the general population’s rate. One study found that 41% of caregivers of a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia experienced mild to severe depression up to three years after their spouse had died.
You may recognize some of the signs of caregiver burnout:
- Social isolation and withdrawal from friends and family
- Physical and emotional fatigue and exhaustion
- Misusing alcohol or drugs
- Significant changes in weight
- Depression or anxiety symptoms
- Feeling frustrated and agitated
- Feelings of anger towards yourself or the person you are caring for
- Losing interest in activities you care about
- Lack of sleep leading to poor memory and concentration
The symptoms of caregiver burnout aren’t temporary; they can lead to serious health problems, like a weakened immune system, cognitive impairment, and a higher risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Caregiver relief or respite is crucial in preventing burnout but also in maintaining emotional and physical stability. Relief and respite can help a caregiver:
- Reduce social isolation by giving them time to connect with friends and other family members
- Find renewed focus and energy for caregiving and other responsibilities and interests
- Maintain emotional and physical health
- Take time to pursue activities they enjoy
- Focus on their career and family
How to Give Your Caregiver a Break
As the person receiving care, you may not always think about giving your caregiver a break, but your involvement can be invaluable. Caregivers often feel guilty if they take time off, but you can encourage your caregiver to take a break by considering these ideas.
1. Suggest hourly help
Suggest hiring in-home help for a few hours a week. Having other people care for you may not be your preference, but the impact could be significant for your caregiver. A couple of hours here and there can give them time to run errands, be with friends, or pursue an enjoyable activity. Discuss how you might pay for and schedule caregivers so that the financial burden is not too significant.
2. Do some things independently
To the extent that you safely can, try to find things you can do on your own. Relying heavily on your caregiver for tasks that you can accomplish on your own adds to their burden. If you can prepare your own meals or do your laundry, for example, you are taking that burden off of your caregiver. Try to think about the ways that you can assume more responsibility, as long as it is safe to do so.
3. Ask other family members to help
There’s often one primary caregiver in the family that seems to assume the lion’s share of duties. Reach out to other family members to help, even in small ways. Ask another person to shop or take care of the lawn. If you have the ability, organize a Google Calendar or another communication platform where others can list the times they can help. If the primary caregiver is giving you hands-on care, ask another family member to fill in from time to time.
4. Be a self-advocate
You may have a chronic medical condition or be recovering from an illness or accident. One of the ways that you can give your caregiver some relief is to advocate for yourself. Part of self-advocacy is taking responsibility for your health care. Even in the most challenging times, you can take a proactive approach to your health and recovery.
If you’re receiving physical therapy, stay committed and focused to get the most out of the experience as you can. If you can make changes in diet and activity that will contribute to your recovery, pursue those. All of these efforts will have the added benefit of improving your mood and giving you confidence.
5. Support your caregiver’s need for relief
Your attitude has a big influence on your caregiver’s willingness to take relief. Encourage and support your caregiver’s ideas for relief, and work as a team so that neither of you feels anxious about decisions. You might want to consider even bringing the idea up yourself.
Start by mentioning that you want to give your caregiver time to attend to things that are important to them. Suggest a meeting between the two of you to discuss how to make that happen. Consider things like a gift card to a spa for a massage or pedicure.
How to Give Yourself a Break If You’re a Caregiver
Now the hard part. How do you give yourself a break if you’re a caregiver? The short answer is you do it with resolve and commitment to the idea that relief is an integral part of caregiving. The value of taking a break needs to equal the level of responsibility that you feel towards your loved one. Self-care as a caregiver is easier if you can take a break.
6. Start early
Caregiving is unique in that it changes constantly. For most, caregiving begins in one of two ways: either abruptly or gradually. Regardless of which path you’re on, starting early to strategize ways to take breaks will make it much easier later on. You and your loved one will be more comfortable with the idea of you taking time for yourself.
Starting early also gives you both the opportunity to adjust to other caregivers, whether they’re family members or paid. If you’re one of the many caregivers who’s considering cutting back on or quitting your job, discuss this with your loved one so that, if possible, you can avoid it.
7. Accept guilt
It’s far easier to accept that you’ll feel guilty taking a break than to fight it. Feeling guilty means you care, but don’t let it distract you from the important task of taking a break when you need to. Guilt can wear you down. Find someone to talk to about your guilt, such as a trusted friend, family member, or therapist.
8. Create a plan and a schedule
Making a plan to take breaks will keep you far more focused and committed. Caregiving is unpredictable, and you’ll want to be flexible. But if you can, schedule a break or some other kind of respite. And you don’t have to think big. Even small breaks can mean a world of difference in your outlook and mood.
A good example would be taking time early in the morning for a walk, or reaching out to friends to stay connected. By putting these scheduled breaks in your calendar, you’re more likely to do them.
9. Give up control
You probably think of yourself as the best person to care for your loved one, and you probably are. That doesn’t mean that other people can’t take over on occasion to give you relief. Not everyone will do things the way you do, but that’s OK. Trust that other caregivers will take good care of your loved one.
10. Small breaks have a big impact
As a caregiver, you may be overwhelmed by the idea of taking too much time away from your loved one. It isn’t necessary to take big breaks (although those are nice too); even small ones can have a big impact. You may need an hour to go to the park or do some mindful meditation or your yoga routine. These activities are amazingly refreshing and don’t take a lot of time.
11. Make a list
What often happens during caregiving is you forget what you need and want to do. Start to think about what activities or people you want to incorporate more into your life. Without concrete ideas, time has a way of passing without you getting the relief you need. You may not be able to do everything, but you’re much more likely to fit respite into your caregiving duties with some ideas on hand.
12. Consider therapy
Symptoms of depression and anxiety can be debilitating. Therapy may not seem like a traditional way of taking a break, but it can be a valuable way to explore your feelings and set goals related to self-care. Talking about your caregiving frustrations, family conflicts, and stress can be healing. Most therapy is now available via video platforms, so you don’t even have to leave the house.
13. Online support
Online support through groups and forums is a valuable way to connect with other caregivers for ideas about how to get relief and find respite resources. Communicating with other caregivers can also help alleviate loneliness.
14. Set limits
Not everyone needs to set limits with their loved ones, but many caregivers do. Loved ones can become very demanding of your time, and prioritizing requests can help you avoid caregiver burnout.
One way to do this is to take a deep breath and realize that not everything is a crisis; it may just be presented that way. If you respond immediately to every problem, you’ll burn out fast. Setting limits can help you create enough emotional space and time to problem-solve effectively.
Caregiver Relief and Respite
As a caregiver, it can be a challenge to find the time and energy to focus on yourself. The nature of caregiving itself seems to conspire against any efforts to find relief. Caregiving duties and stress seem to increase with each passing day. But it’s important to remember that you do have the ability and right to set boundaries, and your health and wellbeing depend on it.
- “Caregiving in the US.” AARP. aarp.org
- “Caregiver Depression: A Silent Health Crisis.” Family Caregiver Alliance. hcaregiver.org
- “Caregiver Stress.” US Department of Health and Human Services. womenshealth.gov