15 Minutes Alone as a Caregiver: Protecting Your Own Time

Tips for Self-Care That Require a Quarter-Hour…or Less!

A caregiver’s world revolves around unending demands. These demands may drain you emotionally, mentally and physically. But the biggest drag is on your time. How big? For many caregivers, just enjoying 15 minutes alone is an unimaginable luxury.

After all, you are your loved one’s eyes and ears. They depend on you to be their “voice” and interpret the world for them. Many people living with dementia have lost their sense of time, so if you are away for 15 minutes, they feel abandoned for an entire day. This dependency means they may want you around – and in sight – 24/7.

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15 Minutes to Refresh

Let’s say you look after a parent with dementia. They may be anxious and follow you from sunrise until long after dark. You do your best to manage your emotions and remain patient. Still, you have needs of your own. How, where and when do you create space to breathe?

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

Caregiver burnout is real and can lead to serious problems for your emotional and physical health. Rather than continuing to ignore the growing stress, acknowledge it. Then pledge to do something about it. If you need an excuse to take care of yourself, remember that the person you are looking after will suffer if you don’t.

Developing a Self-Care Strategy

Your dream of 15 minutes alone can become reality. Ask yourself: Do you need to be physically separate from your loved one to practice self-care? Is this even possible? If not, can you take care of yourself while you’re in the room with them? Are there options to do it together? Your answers will help you choose the right approach.

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15 Minutes for Yourself…While You Care for Another

Can you really take 15 minutes for yourself while in the same room with your mother or father? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

If you are caring for a parent or spouse, you may get so task-focused that you forget about your own well-being. Try these approaches when you are together:

  • Develop a breathing practice. After all, you need to breathe anyway! There are many possibilities for breath work. You can do these with anyone present, and breathing techniques improve heart and brain health.
  • Try mindfulness. The only requirement for this simple form of meditation is the willingness to sit still and watch your thoughts. Developing a healthy detachment from the challenges of the moment could be just the care you need.
  • Listen to music. Share the joy of music together, or don a pair of headphones and listen while you watch mom or dad.
  • Read. Depending on the situation, you could dip into a novel. Keep reading material or your favorite device handy.
  • Exercise. If your parent is able, you can do some simple exercises together. Or, bring an exercise mat into the room and perform floor exercises right there.
  • More togetherness ideas. Other ideas for creating some chill time during care time include jigsaw puzzles, watching TV, or even having “tea time” — a daily ritual can you share with your parent.

          Read Articles About Caregiver Burnout

Out of Sight but Still On-Site

When you are taking care of someone else, here are five ways to steal 15 minutes alone in a spare room:

  • Take a power nap. A short nap will refresh you, and won’t interfere with your evening sleep.  Even if you can’t (or don’t want to) fall asleep, you can still rest and collect your thoughts.
  • Do floor exercises.  Stretching, yoga and aerobic exercise can all be performed in a confined space.
  • Talk to a friend.  Can you spend your 15 minutes on the phone with a friend? If you’re able to set time to do this in advance, great! If that’s not practical, pick up your cell and phone someone to share how your day is going.
  • Meditate or pray. Many caregivers find that a short break to reconnect with their spiritual life can, well, lift their spirits.
  • Take a video vacation. Go online and find a channel that features relaxing scenes and music. Here’s one you might try, The Five Minute Vacation:

An Outside Chance at 15 Minutes Alone

Do you have the option to go to a park, garden or natural area?

  • Walk. Take a few minutes for a brisk stroll. If it’s on a city street that’s totally fine. But if you have access to a park or a beach, all the better. If the weather and environment is right, you can even try a technique called earthing, which means walking barefoot. Some studies show that walking sans shoes reconnects us to mother earth and satisfies our soul…and soles.
  • Just sit. Take a seat someplace and drink it all in. That might mean a park bench or a patch of grass or a local coffee shop.

For more about self-care for people who give their all to their loved ones, take a long slow deep breath — then review this post on the importance of not isolating yourself as a caregiver.

Resources:

  1. Napping, from The National Sleep Foundation
  2. 10 ways for caregivers to nurture themselves

How to Manage Holiday Stress & Dementia Caregiving

Ways caregivers can approach the holidays when their loved one has dementia

Providing dementia care is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. Coupled with the stress to plan, shop, decorate and prepare for the holidays, caregivers often feel overwhelmed as they learn how to care for a parent with dementia. Keep these stress-busters in mind as you meticulously plan and prepare to hang stockings and make things merry and bright while providing care to a parent with dementia.

No Two Days are the Same

Every case of dementia is as unique as the person living with the disease. And caregivers are just as individual.1

What might work with one person, may not work with another in terms of how you interact or relate to dementia-related scenarios, says Connie Hill-Johnson, a caregiving expert who took care of her mother during her battle with dementia.

Hill-Johnson cautions against comparing your holiday experience and/or expectations to anyone else’s.

Practice Gratitude

Focusing on what you have, like a colorful tree or ornaments your children lovingly made decades ago instead of what you lack (i.e., the time to bake dozens of cookies because you’re juggling life and dementia caregiving) changes your focus and allows you to bring in more abundance, says Jaime Pfeffer, a wellness expert and meditation teacher in Warren, Michigan.

Pfeffer says you’ll be more likely to enjoy the holiday season and create memorable moments as you’re caring for a parent with dementia.

Keep it Simple

“Change of familiar environment can be disruptive to the person with dementia,” says Steve, Barlam, a nationally known speaker in geriatric care management and former president of Aging Life Care Association. That includes accepting an invitation to host—or visit—an out of town family member or friend during the holidays.

“Sticking to familiar settings and small gatherings that adhere to the normal routine as much as possible can eliminate potential stress for both caregivers and the person living with dementia.”

That goes for décor, too. “Increased stimulation, lights, noises, activity, etc., can contribute to increased agitation,” adds Barlam.

Maintain Traditions

Whenever possible, stick to foods, decor, music, etc., that your family has incorporated in the holidays for years. “We had my mom sit at the table, even though we had to assist her sometimes,” shares Hill-Johnson. “We gave her gifts, even though she may not have known what the item was and included her in all of the pictures, even though it have been difficult to get her to smile sometimes.”

While sticking to typical holiday routines, resist the urge to trigger memories. Although it’s tempting, steer clear of asking “do you remember the Christmas we…” says Hill-Johnson. Doing so can cause confusion for the person with dementia and make caregiving emotionally difficult when your loved one gets agitated because they don’t remember.

One way to ease the burden of maintaining those traditions is by giving yourself permission to adapt, says Barlam. “Doing things like hosting family, cooking a large meal, buying gifts and other holiday tasks, in the grand old way you once did before caring for a person with dementia might not be realistic.”

Instead, he suggests delegating preparation of some of the traditional dishes to those coming for dinner or brunch. Ask family members to come over and help you, and your mutual loved one with dementia, to help decorate or sit with the person while you string lights and deck the halls. “Create a potluck holiday meal instead of shouldering the entire shopping, food preparation and clean-up burden yourself,” he adds.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Because of the unpredictability of what early dementia looks like, and the behavior and mood of the person living with the disease, Barlam says it’s often easier for caregivers to isolate themselves, rather than be with people. “It can be exhausting to be vigilant and have to explain/make excuses for the person with dementia.”

He suggests pushing yourself to be with others and having an alternate plan in mind can lessen frustration and disappointment if plans suddenly change.

“When accepting an invitation or inviting someone over during the holidays, explain “I’d love to come to your home for a holiday party/have you for dinner, but if my loved isn’t feeling well, can we instead have brunch the next day?”,” he says. “Having an option helps you provide the best care for a parent or loved one with dementia, while still maintaining your social connections.

Know Expectations Might go Unmet

“Don’t give in to unrealistic expectations that the holidays will be as they’re portrayed in television ads, movies, etc.,” urges Barlam. “Remind yourself to enjoy the happy moments your family shares, no matter what they look like and how they occur,” he says. “Don’t get caught up in the minutia or a keeping up with the Jones mentality.”

To manage expectations, he suggests asking yourself “What would make my holiday a good one this year?” Then make a list of two to three simple things that would make you content and work on attaining just those things.

And be prepared to be disappointed. “Family and friends may disappointment, even when they don’t intend to,” Barlam explains. “Manage that added stress by communicating how you feel and what your expectations are for the holidays. Let others know what they can do to make a difference and help you care for a loved one with dementia.”