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Living the Praxis for Care 

Real Talk for Caregivers: Taking Breaks and Being Kind to Yourself

When I sit still and think about my care journey through dementia with my mother, I realize that I've been really, really lucky. I'm a member of AARP's caregiver Facebook group and so occasionally I will read the stories of other people.

I read a post recently from a woman who was just over the top, stressed out, and burned out as a caregiver. What was driving her frustration was the unsolicited and unhelpful suggestions that family caregivers often get.

"You need to take a break."

That's a suggestion that drives me batty as well.

Thirteen years into this journey, I've learned to look at that comment differently. When I first began, it was sort of like, well, gee, tell me something I don't know. But now I can look at it and understand that sometimes people mean well. They just don't know what to say when they see someone that they care about experiencing something really overwhelming, like caring for a loved one and having no time to breathe.

My response to her was that honestly I don't have a viable solution for her situation. So I responded that all I could do was support her in going totally Mt. Vesuvius and expressing her frustration so that she could release the pressure. I also encouraged her to be kind to herself.

Being kind to ourselves is something that family caregivers often struggle with doing. Sometimes we say or think things about ourselves that we would not tolerate hearing from somebody else. As a family caregiver, it's really easy to kick yourself for not having all of the resources or knowledge or technology to give your loved one the best life you want for that person.

It's really easy to forget that you are one person and you are doing the very best one person can do. As a family caregiver, it's easy to overlook how you feel while you're doing everything that you have to do. Being a family caregiver means you're on call all the time. Even when you're not in the role of family caregiver, you're always either performing a task or thinking about what you need to do in order to perform a task.

Finding time for mental breaks is just as important as finding time for taking a physical break. It's really important to take five or ten minutes to think about something other than what you have to do in order to clear your mind and stay focused.

Sometimes I just spend some time watching my incredibly funny cat. I don't know why this cat makes me laugh, but there are things that he does that just tickle me. And giving myself time to be tickled by something as mindless as a cat running around the house or attacking some packing or foam from a package gives me a break.

I've learned over the years that you have to take breaks, especially those breaks that make you laugh, because it's hard to feel overwhelmed when you're laughing. So my encouragement to all of my family caregivers is take time and find something mindless and silly to laugh about.

Thank you for reading.

Be well until next time.

-Dr. Sheri


Dr. Sheri L. Yarbrough is an author, caregiver, and founder of Praxis Senior Care-Giving Solutions, a consulting business that provides care-givers with practical and easily implemented strategies that can be tailored to meet their individual care needs.

View Dr. Yarbrough's weekly blog on all things caregiving from a caregiver's perspective.

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