Being a caregiver for a loved one who can’t care for themselves can be all consuming, of both time and emotional energy. Full-time caregiving can lead to exhaustion, irritability, neglect of other responsibilities, diversion of time from leisure activities, loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, trouble concentrating, increased use of alcohol, food and tobacco to cope, and feelings of resentment toward the loved one receiving the care.
When the need for that caregiving goes away, because the loved one has transitioned to full-time skilled care at a nursing home or has passed away, the void faced by the caregiver can be overwhelming. Some people liken the loss of that need to the loss of a career. There are ways, however, to fill the void.
Savor the Experience
You invested your heart and soul into the caregiving you provided to your loved one, so there is no reason to not take some time to reflect on the experience when it comes to an end. As a caregiver, you have provided an invaluable service to a loved one in need, and you should take stock of all of the skills and psychological insights you have picked up along the way.
Talk About It
Reach out to other caregivers in your community to share your common experiences. Join online communities where there are opportunities to talk through the sense of loss of purpose, ways to cope, etc. Become a friend and mentor in your community to others who are currently going through what you went through as a caregiver. Former caregivers can learn valuable lessons from those who have gone before them.
Put the Skills You’ve Developed to Work
Now that you have time on your hands, consider turning the skills you have learned as a caregiver into a job or career. Consider becoming a nurse or institutional social worker who works with disabled people or the elderly. Or consider working with a public or non-profit agency that provides non-medical support for the disabled or the elderly in your community.
Get Back in the Game of Life
Reconnect with family and friends that you have not had time to stay close to while you were a caregiver. Pick up old hobbies that have gone by the wayside during the time you were too preoccupied to enjoy them. Establish new routines for getting exercise, going to the gym, or engaging with social clubs like book clubs. Go back to church on a regular basis. Whatever It is, get back out there and embrace the types activities you previously did not have time to do.
Focus on Yourself
Many caregivers overlook the basics of their own lives while they are caregivers. When the need for full-time caregiving is gone and the caregiver has more time to focus on themselves, take advantage of it. Return to a regular sleep schedule. It will help improve your mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle to stress on a day-to-day basis. Likewise, focus on eating well in effort to develop a consistent energy level to keep you moving forward. If you are able, get on a regular exercise schedule, or learn meditation or yoga, to help relieve stress, improve your mood, and feel more centered. Finally, focus on your physical health. As a caregiver, you tend to focus on the health of the person you are caring and you push you own into the background. Make a wellness appointment or schedule an annual exam with your primary care physician, to make sure your physical health is moving in the same positive direction as your emotional health.
Despite the demands, caregiving can be an exceptionally rewarding and fulfilling experience. But when the need is no longer there, focus your energy on your emotional and physical well-being so you can be in the best place possible for the next chapter, whatever that may be.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.