Finding ways to be “off duty” as a caregiver. . .

Person sitting at computer holding hands to their head, overwhelmed

That feeling of being “on duty” endlessly is exhausting, whether you’re caring for your children, your parents, your siblings, or a spouse. Your attention is constantly on what might happen next, when the phone is going to ring, or that worst-case-scenario about to unfold.

Caregiving feels overwhelming when you can’t find time to be “off duty.” 

Moms know that feeling, especially if the family includes a special needs child. Single parents certainly know the feeling, regardless of whether they share the time with their kid(s) or do the single-parent-thing full time. Your gender, the ages of your children, even your financial circumstances don’t always let you off the hook. The feeling is persistent and while it may subside, it doesn’t ever fully go away.

I have friends whose “kids” have kids of their own, and these aging adults still feel like they need to be at the ready anytime the phone rings and their children express a need. That may be a little much, but the experience of feeling “on duty” is pervasive in many of our family relationships. Sometimes it reinforces our misguided belief that it is essential to be all things to all people (a conceited distortion of feeling omniscient and omnipresent – like we’re God).

At some point we need to make peace with the idea of setting boundaries. 

Each of us needs some time to ourselves but learning how to do that and finding the edges of your ENOUGH can be difficult.

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!

When, or maybe the question is HOW, do you get a break? Early in my husband’s dementia decline, I felt “off duty” when I had a home health aide who looked in on his needs ten hours a week. For those hours I felt “relieved” of my responsibilities but, that was a brief reprieve and certainly not enough to cover my own corporate work schedule.

At our house, the days have begun to look like the movie Groundhog Day in which the ever-predictably-repetitious sequence of events will inevitably take place: Awake, get up, raise window shades, feed cat, dispense pills, make coffee, serve breakfast, make beds, start laundry, fetch mail, pay bills, contemplate lunch, wash dishes, plan supper, swap laundry, tidy kitchen, charge phone, initiate bed-time routines, lower window shades, fold laundry, watch late-night news, prepare to sleep and then, start over tomorrow! That leaves minimal opportunity for “down time” or the feeling of ever being “off duty” as a caregiver.

These days when my husband attends adult daycare I feel “off duty.” It amounts to about twelve hours a week (two 6-hour days) and it is a delightful mid-week gift to myself. It also allows me time to dig into chores that require more than an hour of my undivided attention. And those hours allow me the privilege of holding business meetings without interruption or going to lunch with a friend and enjoying adult conversation.

Other things that help me feel “off duty” include. . .

  • Getting lost in a movie or television show (even though hubby’s right beside me) can help.
  • Taking a walk around the neighborhood (even if it is only for 15 -20 minutes at a time).
  • Going to yoga (in-person, at the yoga studio!) knowing he’ll sleep most of the time I’m away.
  • Having a friend (she’s amazing) who’ll come sit with him, so he’s not alone if I need to go out.

What do you do to feel “off-duty”?

How often do you:

  • Build into your routine some time for yourself?
  • Include an afternoon to be with important friends or family?
  • Make a weekend a time to simply relax and invite replenishment into your life?

Caregiver or not, we all need time for these things in our lives. But, for caregivers, finding the time, creating the circumstances (and back-up-plans) that permits such self-care is often very challenging.

Since I’ve seen it all, be sure to let me know if I can help with YOUR need for finding a way to feel “off duty” in your caregiving role. That’s what a coach is for – Co-Creating with you to build the life you love!

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About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

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Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.

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