According to the Caregivers Clinic at Sloan Kettering, “An overarching theme among caregivers is how to juggle the responsibility to take care of a loved one and themselves and not just the medical care, but all these other more mundane household things that, when piled up, can become incredibly stressful.”
If you are a first-time caregiver, this can become very overwhelming very quickly. One of the first and most challenging steps to successful time management is admitting you can’t do it all and it may not get done perfectly. However, if you prioritize tasks, ask for help, and stay flexible, you will be able to do it.
1. Ask for help.
Some caregivers think they are the only person who can do the job, but you should not be afraid to share the responsibility with others. It might be hard to ask for help, but friends and family can be an untapped resource. They can help with things that can be delegated, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping laundry, or yard work, so you have more time to focus on the most important job: your loved one’s moral support.
2. Find an organizational system that works for you.
It’s also important to find a system that works for you and your loved one. Systems that work for one family might not necessarily work in yours. Some find that it’s helpful to manage the extensive appointments via planners, notebooks, or dry erase calendars. Others prefer an electronic, shared calendar. Apps like LUNGevity's Lung Cancer Navigator Mobile App can be great tools to help keep appointments organzied, request support from family and friends, and stay in touch with healthcare providers.
Often, there is additional stress on a caregiver to keep interested parties in the loop with what is going on with your loved one’s care. Keeping a shared calendar for everyone, even those who are not primary caregivers, helps them keep track of appointments and scans in order to check in before and after to support the patient. This is beneficial to patients and caregivers with a lot of close friends and family.
3. Remain flexible.
Even with perfect organization, it’s important to remain flexible. The best-laid plans and schedules will be inevitably changed when it comes to cancer treatment. Crises will come up, and, while it’s helpful to have a plan prepared, you also need to learn to adapt when things come up that are out of your control.
The lack of being able to plan further out than a few days can be the single hardest thing to explain to people, especially friends and extended family. Sometimes, it’s best to be totally and sometimes brutally honest. Word all answers how they feel true to you. Sometimes, families and friends can accept “we don’t have the emotional bandwidth today” rather than “sorry, too busy” more easily.
4. Practice self-care.
You may feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day, so taking a few minutes every day to focus on yourself might make you feel guilty. Despite this, it’s important to be disciplined with setting goals for self-care, just like for chore-time. That way, you won’t feel the time was lost in the fog of exhaustion.
It’s also okay to allow yourself and your loved one to have recovery days. You will find you need “do-absolutely-nothing” days because of the intense stress, fear, and overwhelmingness of other days. While it’s always nice to see friends and family, they will understand you need time to yourself.
5. Out-source the chores and errands that are wearing you down.
It also helps to save yourself time by cutting down on errands and chores, like using online services to deliver medications, groceries, or other supplies or paying someone to mow your lawn or clean your house. It can be a relief to have just one regular task off the to-do list. This also allows more time for you to spend at work, with your loved one, or even taking care of yourself.
It can be difficult to adjust to your new normal, especially because no one trains to become a caregiver. But with time and tips, you can find a routine and system that works for you and your loved one. There will always be both good and bad days, but all you can do is take it one day at a time and understand what you can accomplish each day.
Are you a caregiver looking for more advice or to connect with other caregivers? There are so many ways to get engaged! Join LUNGevity’s Caregiver Facebook group or check out the Caregivers Connection blog to hear from more caregivers.
Find a mentor for support and advice through LUNGevity’s LifeLine.
Learn more by checking out the Caregiver Resource Center.