Becoming a More Flexible and Creative Family Caregiver By Julia L. Mayer, Psy.D. & Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D
Theresa goes to bed each night with a long list of things to do on her mind. Because her husband, Frank, has congestive heart failure and is always weak and tired, she knows that she will have to dress him, fix his meals and set up his pills, as well as shop, clean, and pay bills. She has developed routines for getting all this done as efficiently as possible. But her life nowadays seems to her to be nothing but these routines. Each hour is filled with burdensome tasks. Each day has a stultifying sameness. Each morning she wakes with a sense of dread about doing it all again.
Routines have an important place in our lives. They keep us on track with our responsibilities, requiring little thought and feeling, especially when we ourselves are tired. But the very repetitiveness of them also robs our lives of spontaneity and zest. In the worst-case scenario, we could wind up functioning robotically--not thinking or feeling, but only acting on automatic pilot. Too much adherence to too much routine also makes it harder for family caregivers to adjust to evolving medical, social or financial circumstances. Theresa would do well to be less organized and efficient or, at the least, to review and refresh her routines regularly. She may have to think and feel more about Frank’s changing needs but, in the process, she will be enlivened, too.
How can family caregivers get out of the rut of routines? Here are some suggestions to shake things up a bit and hopefully get a bit of replenishment as a result:
- Do one thing differently each day. Change your seat at the breakfast table. You’ll have a different view. Drink a different hot beverage in the morning. Switch the order in which you do something. Breakfast before bathing instead of bathing before breakfast. Making a small change tends to increase your awareness of all that’s going on around you.
- Introduce something new to your routine. You might turn on the radio during breakfast. Or open a window. Or put flowers on the table. You could read out loud from the newspaper. Put down different place mats or a table cloth. Whatever you add can be a small thing that doesn’t take a lot of planning and executing.
- Add humor to your day. Plan to watch a funny movie together, or a comedy routine. Read a chapter out loud from a humorous book. Find ways to laugh together. It helps!
- Add something creative to your day. Look at art, listen to music or do a small art project together. Make Christmas ornaments. Start to knit a scarf. Bake cookies. Start an herb garden on your kitchen window sill. You can do it with your loved one if possible or he/she can be present with you while you do it. Having a sense of accomplishment helps brighten your mood.
- Do something social, even briefly. Talk to a neighbor. Call a friend or relative. Offer support to someone else. Go to services at your religious institution. When you engage with others, you will feel replenished and less isolated.
- Get a change of scenery. Take a walk or go for a drive and pay attention to what’s around you. Look at the trees, homes and people. When you take yourself out of your routine, you remember that there’s a whole world out there. You may literally experience a breath of fresh air.
Sometimes it only takes a small departure from the daily drudgery to give us a sense of freedom, possibilities, and hope. We can all use more of that.