Caring for the caregiver

Cheryl Bokhaut MSW, RSW
Counsellor, Employee Assistance Program
May 2, 2021

More than 25% of Canadians 30 years-old and up are currently caring for a parent or in-law, many while raising their own children at the same time. The stress and strain of being a caregiver in the “sandwich generation” takes a toll on the well-being of these dual caregivers and adds up in lost productivity and income costs.

As a caregiver, it is important for you to look after yourself while you are providing care to your aging family member. Self-care is an important part of maintaining your own overall health and well-being, and an effective way to reduce the impacts of your dual role in all areas of your life. Here are some steps to consider as part of your self-care strategy.

Be realistic. Recognize the challenges and benefits of caregiving and set realistic goals for what you can provide to your loved one based on your own time, ongoing responsibilities, emotional history and current relationship with this family member. Complicated relationships tend to raise complex emotions and attending to these feelings will be a necessary and important part of coping with your caregiving role. Your existing responsibilities may take a temporary backseat to the new demands upon you, but they won’t go away altogether. Pace yourself and be mindful of how much energy you have to give.

Accept help. Recognize when your loved one requires more than you can (or should) give. Being a caregiver is a tough job and is not one that you need to or should do alone. Community-based supports like home care will bring you welcome relief from the day-to-day caregiving tasks your loved one may require as their care needs increase. Accept offers of help from other family members or reach out to them with specific, concrete tasks like taking care of the weekly laundry or grocery shopping for your parent.

Stay well. Ensure that you are maintaining your own personal and emotional health and fitness. This includes getting rest, eating well and exercising when you can. Some people may experience feelings of guilt for taking this time, but you need to continue to care for yourself and you’ll have more to give to your loved one if you do.

Stay connected. Seek out connections with friends and family who understand your caregiving situation and are supportive to you. Join a caregiver support group and take advantage of opportunities to attend learning events about your loved one’s condition;these are great places to meet others who understand your situation. Maintain regular contact with your family doctor so that they are aware of your caregiving role and its impact upon you.

Counselling. Engage professional help if you find that you are feeling emotionally and physically overwhelmed with your caregiving situation. The experience of emotional overload from caregiving is real and may affect other areas of your life such as work and personal relationships. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you are finding your caregiving role burdensome and overwhelming. Many caregivers will experience complicated emotions related to their caregiving role such as love, sadness, guilt, anger and inadequacy, just to name a few. A counsellor is an objective professional who will help you process these feelings without judgment or bias.

Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support here. (Sign in to mybluecross® to confirm your coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross.)

Educate yourself. Ongoing education and accurate information about your loved one's medical condition will help you remain realistic in your expectations and make decisions about care needs. This is especially relevant if your family member does not appear appreciative of your help and support. Despite your good intentions, many aging family members do not want or understand their need for increased support. Understanding their needs from an educated and objective point of view can anchor you.

Being able to cope with your caregiving role means facing your situation in the most practical and sensible way possible. Looking after yourself is the single most powerful step you can take toward maintaining your own well-being while looking after your ailing or aging loved one.