Five Tips to Find Balance as a Caregiver

As a caregiver, I often ask myself, “Am I doing enough?” A few months ago, for example, I was at my mom’s house doing the dishes after cooking her dinner when she asked, “Angelina, could we spend time together out of the house sometime too?” I nodded, but inside I felt apprehensive, overwhelmed by my other responsibilities, raising a child and working full-time. I didn’t want to give her the little “me time” I had leftover, but I felt guilty that she had unmet needs, loneliness and maybe a lack of stimulation. 

After some reflection, I was honest with her. I shared how stretched I felt and together we came up with a “good enough” plan. We earmarked Saturdays as our day to go out shopping, eat out, and socialize. My 7-year-old son would come along too. Out of the house, I would be freed from thinking about chores and able to focus on spending quality time with both of them. They would enjoy family time with each other, and I could get some errands done. Lunch out would be a special treat for all of us. 

Happily, this multitasking solution met both my mom’s needs and mine, but it’s not always so easy. Each caregiving situation is unique, and creating balance is not a simple recipe. In this spirit, I find the following general guidelines helpful when I feel out of balance as a caregiver, and I hope that they help you too.

Guidelines for Caregivers: Five Tips

  1. Juggling is inevitable, but caregiver burnout – a chronic state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of caring for another – is not. Be aware of how you are doing, in addition to those you care for. Seek help if you see signs of burnout. 
  2. Communication is key to any relationship, including caregiving. When tensions or conflicts arise, brainstorm solutions together that respect everyone’s needs, including yours!
  3. Loneliness is a major issue for adults over 60, 43% of whom report feeling lonely. Caregivers often feel that they’re the only social lifeline. Aging parents may prefer to rely on you because it’s comfortable and investing in new relationships takes effort, but helping them to expand their social circle can benefit both of you in the long run. 
  4. It can be very difficult for people to express their needs and feelings directly, and proxy battles (i.e. a heated argument about buying the wrong kind of creamer that is not really about the creamer) are common. When emotions run high (yours or theirs or both), wait for a calm moment to try and analyze what the real needs are. Write them down on paper, if that helps. Clarity can help reveal solutions hiding in plain sight. 
  5. If you need help as a caregiver, it’s never a negative reflection on you! On the contrary, recognizing that you need help is a strength.

Angelina Portuense, LSW
Angelina is a licensed social worker who has been working in the elder care field for over seven years. Her passion for working with older adults started in her teenage years when she became a family caregiver.