As a family caregiver you have become used to devoting a lot of your time and energy to addressing the daily needs of someone else. Moving on when caregiving ends can be difficult. It can even make you question your purpose and have you wondering, what’s next?
Finding the new normal for caregivers
When caregiving ends, try and focus on getting back to your own optimum health.
You had to adapt to many changes when you became a family caregiver, and now, after caregiving ends, your life will change again. Like all situations in life, there’s no moving backwards to exactly how things used to be. Go easy on yourself when adjusting to life after caregiving. You will need to re-adjust to new schedules, new routines, and perhaps go back to work if you had taken time off. Starting over will take time, but you will get there.
Taking care of yourself
The stress of being a caregiver may have taken a toll on you mentally and physically. When caregiving ends, try and focus on getting back to your own optimum health. Start with the basics…are you:
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Sleeping well and getting enough rest
- Getting enough exercise
Also consider caregiver support groups. Caregiver support groups share your caregiving stories and connect with people who can relate to what you have been through and what you’re going through now.
After caregiving – picking up the pieces
If, while caregiving, you had lost touch with friends or stopped doing activities that you had enjoyed, make an effort to reconnect with these now. Reach out to friends and make plans. Resume activities like reading, exercise, making art, or writing in a journal. When caregiving ends is also a good time treat yourself and try a new hobby or take a class that interests you.
Cancer & other diseases - coping with fear of recurrence
If your caregiving ends because the person’s treatments were successful, you both will be feeling very relieved. Once you aren’t so focused on day-to-day caregiving, and have more time to think about things, your initial relief may give way to anxiety or fear that the person’s illness will come back.
Some diseases or cancers can recur, so it’s important to get as much information as you can. Don’t just rely on Google searches, which can make you even more anxious.
Speak to the health care team about this specific case and prognosis, any risk factors, and what the person can do to help prevent a recurrence. Ask questions and make sure you feel confident in understanding any follow-up plans. Having more knowledge will help you feel more control over the situation, and less anxiety.
Try to also live in the present instead of dwelling on the past or an unknown future. Remind yourself of what you can control, and what you can’t. After caregiving ends, focus on the present, and that right now the person you’ve been caring for is doing well. Also see our article 10 Caregiver Stress Relievers That Every Caregiver Should Practice, including tips to practice meditation and mindfulness.
Life is short – live it well
If caregiving has ended because the person passed away, you will be working through stages of grief and dealing with End Of Life Emotions. Loss is life-changing. A natural part of this process is to examine your own mortality and re-evaluate things in your life.
After caregiving ends you might find yourself questioning how you want to live your life in this next chapter. What you used to value may now have changed. For example, you may decide to travel more instead of waiting for retirement, change a career path that is too demanding or that you no longer feel right in, or you may even be contemplating moving to a new home or city.
Change can be a very positive thing after caregiving ends.
Sometimes it takes major events to make us stop just treading water in our lives, or putting things off for the future. It can be tempting to make these decisions quickly when you are vulnerable and emotions have been running high. Some things, like taking a trip, are probably just what you need.
After caregiving, picking up the pieces is a normal process but try to give yourself a few months before making bigger decisions, like moving. Listen to what your gut is telling you. Only you can know what you need, and making some new choices after caregiving is healthy. You just might want to give yourself some time to know what you really want.
For many caregivers, helping others is immensely fulfilling and an affirmation of hope.
Reflecting on your own experiences as a caregiver of someone with a particular health condition, you have a unique opportunity to reach out and help others who are on a similar journey. Consider what might feel comfortable for you.
Options for helping others might include giving your time to an organization related to the cause, becoming an advocate, or doing something that honours the person you had been caring for.
As a not-for-profit organization powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Elizz is the place to go for all things caregiving with a wide range of services for caregivers, as well as those in your care.
If you feel you wish to speak to someone about adjusting to life after caregivng or you are looking for support, please call Elizz at 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549).