The Hidden Losses of CaregiversAug 31, 2014 09:56PM ● By By Pat Obst and Sharon Roth-Lichtenfeld
According to National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, more than 65.7 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. Caregivers juggle multiple commitments, including jobs and relationships with other family members, while at the same time going to extraordinary lengths to provide care to a family member or loved one. Caregivers often sacrifice their own physical, financial and emotional well-being. The stress that a caregiver experiences is compounded by their own underlying losses.
Acknowledge the Loss
Most losses are obvious. When someone dies, we’ve lost a loved one. When we go through a divorce, we’ve lost our marriage and our family structure. When we experience a life-changing illness, we’ve lost our health. In a caregiving situation we only think of the one being cared for, the one who is ill, disabled or frail, as the one experiencing loss.
Caregivers also experience layers of loss—physical, emotional and spiritual losses that develop and may intensify the longer the caregiving goes on. Anxiety and worry may hamper sleep affecting interaction with others or work productivity. Anger and resentment may cause the loss of peace of mind and affect the loving relationship we have with our loved one. Loss of esteem and value is felt when we feel guilty that we’re not doing enough for the one we’re caring for, our boss and our children because we’re stretched too thin.
Loyalty, love and obligation are all wrapped up in caregiving. It comes from the heart. However, that doesn’t supplant the fact that it takes time, effort, sacrifice and energy which take away from other areas of our lives. Our own grief comes through in subtle ways, like the loss of time to enjoy life more, pursue goals or share experiences with our family and friends.
Often caregivers feel they cannot plan nor take time for themselves leading to the loss of socialization and recreation, creating isolation. Caring for ourselves is critical to experiencing well-being and to continue to care for others. One way to avoid isolation is to plan outings ahead of time.
For 10 years my best friend Debbie cared for her ailing mother in her home while raising two children as a single mom. Her love for her mother and burden for her care coexisted. She experienced many of the losses described. However, she had the insight to know that she needed to tend to her emotions and care for herself as well. Every year Debbie would sign up for a subscription to the local theater for the season. She pre-paid it with a friend, ensuring that she would attend. During her time out, she made a rule: no talking of mom, health, kids or work. She created her own space and peace of mind that allowed for rejuvenation of her spirit.
It’s important for caregivers to minimize their stress and acknowledge their losses to sustain their well-being and of their family. Emotional needs can be met by taking time to relax daily, keeping a journal to release feelings, talking with a friend or counselor, feeding their spirit by praying, meditating, or walking in a peaceful place.
As a writer by profession, Debbie incorporated this to provide an outlet to express her thoughts and feelings as a caregiver and as a daughter. She wrote articles about caregiving and caring for her mother and submitted them to local publications.
The losses incurred through caregiving are overwhelming. It’s crucial to put aside the superhuman mentality by asking for help. If it takes a village to raise a child, then realize it takes a village to take care of a loved one. Research shows that the well-being of a caregiver greatly improves when there is tangible support in place.
Acknowledge and validate the layers of loss to minimize effects and reduces stress. Plan with an intention to take care of one’s self to nurture and rejuvenate the soul. Build support to lessen isolation and ease feeling of sadness, anger and grief. All of these strategies help and support caregivers in enhancing their well-being.
Pat Obst, a Licensed Clinical Therapist, and Sharon Roth- Lichtenfeld, an ICF Certified Professional Life Coach, together provide over 25 years of expert professional experience along with many years of personal knowledge and understanding of loss, grief and forever changes. Their program Afterwards is the next step and is the critical link from being supported through therapy and support groups to being able to flourish after the first year. To learn more, visit AfterwardsProgram.com.