Juggling a Job and Family Caregiving

Your days can go more smoothly when you pare down your to-do list and figure out what actually refreshes you.

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- Posted on Apr 24, 2020

A man working from home on his laptop.

Many people are working from home for now and others have seen their work routines and schedules change significantly. Whatever your situation, when you’re also a family caregiver, holding down a job while handling the needs of your loved one can quickly lead to the yo-yo effect. But there are ways to minimize your stress and move through the day with greater ease, even when you’re navigating a new home workspace during this challenging period.  

Among the keys to successfully juggling both responsibilities—while maintaining your all-important self-care—are to plan ahead, set boundaries, and, if possible, delegate some duties, time management coach, author and speaker Elizabeth Saunders told Guideposts.org. “Just recognize that this is hard, this isn’t an easy time. You do have to reach out for support, whether that’s talking to your friends or getting help in the home, or doing whatever you can to stay in a good, healthy, centered emotional place.”

If you are thinking of getting help in the home, check with your loved one’s doctor to understand what is necessary to protect their health during this time. Even if it’s not possible to bring in outside help right now, you may begin looking at options for the future.

There are some things you can do now, and Saunders offered the following tips to help you maintain a good work-caregiving balance under the current circumstances:

Make a list

Write down everything you’ve got on your plate. “Some of your responsibilities may have been reduced,” she said. “Maybe you don’t have a commute anymore, or there are certain activities outside the home you were previously doing.” In other areas, though, responsibilities may have increased. You may have children at home because school and other activities have been canceled. Basic tasks, like getting things from the store, have gotten more complex and time-consuming.

“If on that list, there is anything you can eliminate or you can potentially lower your expectations for, then that can be a good next step,” Saunders said. “Maybe before, you were doing something to a certain level and you’re going to do it to a less perfect level now.”

Plan how you want to spend your time

“We don’t have the normal patterns of the week, where maybe there was something you did every Friday and you can’t do that, or you can’t go to church on Sunday,” she said. “Everything’s mushing all together, and that can be confusing.” Creating a structure can make all the difference. “You’re getting up in the morning—what are you doing before you start work, how do you organize your time, what are your main goals? It doesn’t mean everything goes according to plan, but it at least gives you a sense of direction.”

Make sure the plan also includes spending quality time with your loved one. “Put that into your schedule and have some times where you can be with them, not just do things for them,” she said. If it’s feasible to hire an in-home caregiver to whom you can delegate some tasks or who can offer additional companion care to your loved one, all the better.

Communicate boundaries

Having a defined workspace is important.  “It’s not helpful if you’re sitting at the kitchen table or in the dining room or the living room, and then expect people to not ask you questions,” Saunders said. “You need to pick a place, whether you have a real office or you’re working from your bedroom. While you’re doing your remote work, you need to be visually not present.” Depending on your loved one’s level of cognitive functioning, however, he or she may need more or less of your attention, and interruptions may still occur. “That may just need to be how it is,” she said. This is another area in which it helps to have a professional caregiver who can spend quality time with your loved one while you’re taking care of business. Then you and your loved one could have lunch together every day, and enjoy one another’s company when the pressure’s off.

Decide what rejuvenates you, and then do it

Activities that are actually refreshing can help you to avoid escapism behaviors and allow you to be in a good place as a caregiver. These may include taking time to pray or journal, exercise, read something you enjoy, work on a creative hobby or talk to friends on the phone, Saunders said. On the other hand, it can be draining to spend too much time on things like online shopping, social media, TV watching or video games. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or another time of day, it’s important, she said, to make a routine of whatever has a centering effect. “There can be a tendency toward feeling like, oh my gosh, I’m so behind, there’s so much to do, I couldn’t possibly take time for myself,” she said. “But the truth is that you can’t afford not to do that.”

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