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When you’re a caregiver, stress is inevitable and sometimes catches us off guard. After all, we have devoted this season of our lives to pouring health and wellbeing on someone else. It’s no wonder that many of us succumb more often than we’d like to caregiver stress. Rewarding yourself as a caregiver is one of the most efficient ways of reducing caregiver stress.
We want so much to do a good job and be a successful caregiver but how do we do that when the more we try the more stressed we become. When we finally do take time for ourselves, we are ridden with guilt as our minds pound us with thoughts of selfishness.
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Why Rewarding Yourself As A Caregiving is Important to Reducing Caregiver Stress
As a caregiver we are continuously seeing to the needs of others, so much so we often forget to look after ourselves. When we are intentional about rewarding ourselves for our efforts we are actively avoiding caregiver stress. Caregiver stress and burnout is one of the most common issues plaguing family caregivers.
If we can reduce caregiver stress as often as possible, we will have less resentment about our time spent as a caregiver and be a better person because of it.
Unfortunately, family caregivers can feel very under-appreciated. We are volunteering to take care of another adult in ways that would make anyone else absolutely shudder in horror, yet when we mention our sacrifice it’s shrugged off.
There are several reasons why this is:
- What we do is not really noticeable to the general population. While there are some very public service roles out there, family caregiver is not one of them. There is no uniform, no gold star, no award ceremony.
In fact, we try to appear as “normal” as possible to the general public to avoid embarrassing conversations. Unless we make a point to discuss family caregiving and all that it truly entails, no one is aware.
- There is a lack of understanding of what it is to be a family caregiver. Many people believe it’s as simple as cohabitating. After all, if our loved one required more care then we would just place them in a facility, right?
It’s a common misconception that assisted living and nursing is possible in our homes. In fact, I think when you do start to educate others on what it truly means to be a full-time family caregiver, you will be met with shock and even disbelief.
- Our loved ones are so resentful of needing care that it leaves little room to appreciate our own efforts. When I first became a caregiver I took the anger and bitterness my MIL directed toward me as an evaluation of my caregiving. I felt so much like a failure that the thought of giving myself little rewards never crossed my mind. Eventually, I realized my MIL wasn’t angry at me but at the situation and I was actually a very good caregiver. I started giving myself small rewards for just making through the day in one piece. These rewards, in turn, reduced my caregiver stress and gave me the strength and endurance to do it again the next day.
As a caregiver it can be easy to get caught up in the mundane. We do the same things day in and day out; fighting the same battles, listening to the same stories, eating the same meals. We don’t even realize we are beginning to experience caregiver stress until it’s too late. By rewarding yourself as a caregiver for accomplishing certain things throughout the day, we are working toward something new thus eliminating the mundane. It gives us something to look forward to and strive for as opposed to just trying to survive the day.
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Myths of Reducing Caregiver Stress by Rewarding Yourself As A Caregiver
1. It has to involve leaving your home
We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that rewarding yourself has to involve going somewhere. Taking a vacation. Going to a spa. Shopping trips. Nights out with friends.
These are all great rewards but are completely unnecessary. There are so many fulfilling ways you can reward yourself without going anywhere!
2. Rewards need to be expensive and elaborate
Another myth we’ve bought into when it comes to rewarding ourselves as a caregiver is that we have to spend a lot of money or that our rewards have to be huge.
Small rewards are just as effective at preventing caregiver stress. In fact, if you reward yourself frequently in small ways you will have a greater chance of avoiding burnout thus eliminating (or at least spreading out) your need for the more elaborate rewards of respite.
3. They have to be infrequent
Don’t think that you have to space out your caregiver rewards to make them extraordinary and unusual.
- Did you just clean up a colossal mess in the bathroom? You deserve a reward!
- Did you finally convince your loved one to take a shower? You deserve a reward!
- Did you make it through lunch without a snide comment escaping your lips? You deserve a reward!
Decide what makes you a feel good about yourself and your work as a caregiver, make it you goal, and then reward yourself every time you reach that caregiving goal!
Caregiver Reward Systems that Reduce Caregiver Stress
A key part about reducing your caregiver stress by rewarding yourself as a caregiver is planning. In order for the reward to be effective you must have a plan to make it happen otherwise you might not have the motivation to see it through.
There are three ways I plan out my rewards.
- I make a plan and determine what my reward will be for accomplishment. If I’m able to get my MIL in the shower, I’ll reward myself with some personal reading. After cleaning a particularly gross mess, I’ll reward myself with a cup of tea or coffee (or wine)
- I make the more mundane tasks more enjoyable by rewarding myself as I do them. I’ll listen to podcasts or show while doing dinner or laundry. I’ll enjoy wine while planning my next day or ordering groceries. I’ll have a coffee and listen to my music while doing the shopping.
- I’ll set a weekly/monthly goal and reward myself for progress. I want to be a more positive person so my goal will be to react positively in negative situations. I’ll create a habit tracker to hold myself accountable then reward myself with a good bottle of wine or a new hobby accessory when I feel I’ve made progress.
- I take preemptive measures and reward myself because I know I’m doing my best. Sometimes I can feel caregiver stress building and burnout on the horizon so I’ll reward myself in a way that reminds me that I am a good caregiver. Sometimes that means taking some time by myself to reflect or just not think at all. It requires more planning and sometimes getting some extra help but it’s worth it to keep myself from having to take more frequent respite.
Make your caregiver rewards happen:
To make your caregiver rewards happen, try writing them down as you plan your day/week/month. Decide what tasks need to be done and how you’re going to reward yourself for accomplishing them. For example, when I complete my morning chores, I reward myself by sitting down to enjoy the last of my coffee.
I’ll set a goal for, say, fewer negative responses to my MIL’s outbursts and create a tracker. I decide I will reward myself at the end of the week/month with one of my larger rewards, like a mani/pedi. When my MIL has an outburst and I respond positively I mark it down. If at the end of my goal period I see positive progress, I give myself my reward.
My Favorite Caregiver Rewards that Reduce Caregiver Stress
1. Buy yourself a coffee
Plan a few extra minutes before you go grocery shopping to sit in a coffee shop to slowly enjoy a nice cup of your favorite coffee. Drive through and enjoy it on your way home from an errand while listening to your favorite music or just sitting in blessed silence.
2. Schedule times during your day for reading, listening to music or a podcast, or watching a show
Sure, it might be while you’re folding a load of laundry or cooking dinner. You may even have to lock yourself into the bathroom to get a few minutes of uninterrupted time. Looking forward to enjoying something just for you makes a great motivator for completing those more trying caregiving moments easier.
3. Sign up for a monthly or quarterly subscription box or personal shopper.
You’ve already accomplished something great by sacrificing this part of your life to be a family caregiver. In fact, most of your time is spent on filling someone else’s wants and needs. A mail-order subscription box gives you something to look forward to that only you get to enjoy.
4. Schedule times for self-care
Get up a little earlier for some exercise or quiet meditation time. Shower in the evening after everyone has gone to bed. Take a quiet morning/evening walk. Make efforts to work on your mind and body.
5. Give yourself a spa night
Light some candles, pour some wine, turn on your favorite music an indulge yourself with bath salts, face masks, lotions, and maybe even a mani/pedi.
6. Journal frequently to get your emotions out on paper
This might not seem like much of a reward but I so look forward to spending a few quiet moments before I go to sleep getting all my thoughts and emotions out. You’ll refresh your mind and spirit plus increase your chances for a rejuvenating sleep.
7. Schedule one or two days a months for yourself
This one may require you asking for help but it’s such a great way to reward yourself as a caregiver. Go to a coffee shop, get a mani/pedi, meet friends for lunch, anything that allows you to spend a few hours where you don’t have to think about being a caregiver.
8. Order your groceries and use the time you would spend at the store to do something fun
Most cities have grocery stores now with curbside services and most of us already block out time to do grocery shopping. Instead of frantically wandering through a store, do your shopping online and use the time instead to focus on you.
9. Brainstorm new hobby ideas and schedule time every day to work on them
Even spending 15 minutes a day working on a home hobby goes a long way in making you feel rewarded as a caregiver. Find something you enjoy doing at home, set up a small, out of the way workspace, and schedule time to work on your hobby every day. It can be anything that brings you joy.
Some ideas to get you started:
- adult coloring books
- hand lettering
10. Find a new TV series on your favorite streaming service
Nothing makes laundry or dishes go faster than binging on a new show. It makes these chores so much more enjoyable and you might find yourself actually looking forward to them.
Not only should you reward yourself as a caregiver to prevent caregiver stress but you should also reward yourself because you deserve it! You are making a great sacrifice by being your loved one’s caregiver and whether others recognize it or not, you are doing a great job! Treat yourself!