Saturday, May 28, 2016

When Caregiving Ends What’s Next? Redefining Your Purpose

In the midst of active caregiving it’s can be hard to imagine a time when you wont have this level of responsibility. However, change is one of the few constants in life and at some point, you will no longer need to fill this role. What’s next?

How the caregiving ends can impact “next steps.” Did the person die or become self-sufficient? Did something change requiring you to give up that responsibility? Your age, other family responsibilities, what you did before becoming a caregiver and how connected you stayed to other people and activities during that time also plays a role

While some are relieved and seem to be able to pick up where they left off before becoming a caregiver, others are lost as their identity and sense of purpose-their reason for getting up in the morning- is gone. In the latter situation, when the person dies, this can become a complication to grieving.

Note about grieving: It is important to recognize that grief does not last forever, it doesn’t come in stages, and there is considerable misinformation out there on this topic. One of the leading researchers is George A. Bonanno at Columbia University whose 20 years plus studies of grief and loss finds that By far the most common response we see in our research is a pattern we call "resilience." We see this pattern in between one third and two thirds of bereaved people. It looks like the term suggests. People who show a resilient outcome struggle initially with the pain of loss, as almost everyone does, but they manage to deal with the sadness and distress with equanimity. Their pain is acute, usually lasting most pointedly for a few days to a few weeks but then begins to subside. It is not that they don't grieve, or that they didn't care; far from it. Rather, they are able to put the pain aside when they need to and they continue to meet the demands of their life. They work, they take are of loved ones. They even laugh and experience moments of joy. They accept the loss, readjust their sense of what is, and move on.

If you are having difficulty refocusing and moving on to “what’s next” consider the following:

Stabilize your life by:
• Taking care of the basics that were often over looked such as getting sufficient sleep, eating healthy whole foods, exercising etc.

• Reconnect with your living space. Whether the person lived with you or you had to go to them, create a living space that brings you comfort, contentment and joy. This is good time to de clutter. Check out The KonMari Method for Tidying When Affected by a Chronic Condition  

• Take a vacation, even if it’s a weekend in a hotel across town. Use the  Take a Break Pinterest Board to engage in any number of activities to help ease daily stress.

• If you belong to a church, synagogue, or other religious group and were unable to participate because of your caregiving responsibilities, reconnect.

• You’ve poured out a lot of energy so if people are offering to do things for you, let them. Massages, spa day and even getting a haircut helps you recharge.

• Assess your financial and living situation along with other aspects of your life that you might have put on hold. Don’t try to tackle this all at once and definitely get some assistance if you need help with financial planning etc. Put off what you can until tomorrow.

• Look at family dynamics. Sometimes caregiving can put you at odds with family members for one reason or other. Is there anything outstanding that you really need to address? If it’s minor, let it go.

• Reconnect with friends and people you enjoy, as well as other activities, that may have fallen by the wayside. Consider the three important findings of the Harvard longevity study (now over 75 years old) Social connections are really good for us, loneliness kills; It's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters; Good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.

• Practise mindfulness (living in the present moment) as much as possible so that you don’t get swallowed up in regret (it’s common for caregivers to feel guilt for not doing enough, missing symptoms etc.) or traumatized by what could happen in the future. Check out Mindful: Taking time for what matters 

• Recognize that nothing is permanent and that change is an important part of life. We’re designed to be resilient and we can build on that by maintaining a broad repertoire of possible responses to challenges such as talking, distracting oneself, writing, finding ways to laugh about it, doing something to change the situation, deep breathing, and so on.  Read more on this topic at Suffering: How optional is it? 

• If you are continually obsessing about what’s happened and fears for the future, check out How to Stop Obsessive Thinking. 

• Be gentle with yourself

 Reconnect to your purpose by:
• Asking yourself what you believe in and how that may have been shaped by your recent experiences.

• Assess what your caregiver experience has given you. Maybe it’s taught you how to advocate for someone, mediate between people with differing viewpoints, coordinate care, make food for those with special dietary needs etc. etc. What aspects of it did you enjoy?

• Identify what brought you joy and contentment before and after being a caregiver. Anything from the “before” phase that you’d like to try again?

Once a caregiver always a caregiver isn’t true for everyone. It’s okay to recognize and refocus your energy into a hobby, job, politics, church or another activity that you find interesting and fulfilling. We give the world and ourselves what it needs when we do what we love and what inspires us. If you like caregiving, there are both jobs and volunteer opportunities that would welcome someone with your experience.

• Consider a career/job change that is more in line with your current understanding of yourself.

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