“I Recommend Respite”

by Jane Hamilton on July 25, 2011 posted on Aging In Action Newsletter – Mathers Lifeways

I just got off the phone with a friend who asked, “How are you?”  Immediately I replied, “Fantastic!”  Even 350 e-mails in my inbox and a pile of dirty clothes in the laundry can’t dampen my spirits. My much-needed beach vacation was filled with stunning sunsets, roaring waves, warm sand beneath my feet, and chocolate ice cream. I’ve returned to my responsibilities, revitalized by the rhythms and beauty of nature, refreshed in body and mind, heart and soul.

Restored by some time off, I’m reminded why I recommend respite for caregivers. Though caring for others can be rewarding and meaningful, it’s seldom easy. It can take a toll: undermining physical and emotional health as well as eroding productivity at work and relationships at home. In extreme cases, unrelieved caregiver stress can lead to burnout, neglect, or even abuse. Stepping away helps prevent these negative consequences and preserves the capacity to care.

Many caregivers aren’t free to go away on vacation, but there are many simpler ways to get a much-needed break from the responsibilities of caregiving. Respite can be as brief as stopping a few moments or relaxing for a few hours, and may not require any outside help.  Every caregiver needs to claim the right to this type of respite. Whether pausing to eat a healthy meal, talk with a friend, say some prayers or take a nap, these self-nurturing practices restore energy and are the cornerstones of caregiver well-being.

Respite becomes more complicated when it requires engaging others to step in and assume caregiving duties.  Who will help: family or friends? volunteers from community or faith-based organizations? professional companions or health-care providers? Will they be reliable, provide quality care, and know what to do in an emergency? How much will it cost? Is it worth the effort to make the arrangements or easier to just do it myself? 

Whether brief or extended, I recommend respite as a critical element of healthy self-care for every caregiver. How about you—what are you doing to make rest and relaxation a regular part of your life? What more could you do for yourself? Let me know about your experiences with respite…your successes, challenges, or questions. I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, be sure to take good care of yourself.

—Jane

Jane Meier Hamilton MSN, RN, a nurse for 35 years and family caregiver for 20 years, founded Partners on the Path to help professional and family caregivers preserve their health, well-being, and capacity to care. Her book, Journey of a Lifetime: The Caregiver’s Guide to Self-Care (Infinity 2010) offers sensible, effective ways to cope with caregiver stress.