Yes, it’s another year…another century….and even a new millennium. The phrase “new millennium” has been on overkill for the past several months, and even the most patient of people are tiring of it.

How many of you truly thought you’d be alive at the stroke of midnight last Thursday night? How many of those to whom you caregive were expected to live long enough to hear the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” one more time? With credit to our Higher Power, all of us have been blessed with perhaps a second chance to right our wrongs, focus on the essential parts of our lives and prioritize our needs as they apply to our lives and to those we love and/or take care of.

Taking control doesn’t mean “doing it all.” It simply means choosing what is important and letting go of what is not. To a caregiver choices never come easy, for we now have to make sometimes life-altering decisions for another human being and take responsibility for those decisions. Many caregivers face an uphill battle with an unreasonable spouse, parent or relative, often reaching the point where obstacles and adversities can no longer be successfully dealt with.

Now the sun of a new millennium shines down on all of us. Resolutions have been made and many already broken! Diets have been started and already stopped. But for the first time in a long time, let us as caregivers look ahead to a one-step-at-a-time beginning in how we organize our lives and how our attitudes can affect our relationships with our loved ones.

Choose short-term goals and decide what actions must be taken to achieve those goals. Any caregiver should concentrate on short term plans, as dwelling on the future may bring on uncontrollable thoughts of the death of their loved one, and caregivers need not dwell on this passing nor make their loved one more uncomfortable in being reminded of their destiny.

Once goals are set, try to discuss them with your loved one. More than likely they will often include or revolve around an ill family member. In setting goals, caregivers need to learn to put themselves first – NOT at the exclusion of loved ones, but at the inclusion of the caregiver. Past history has proven that caregivers generally put themselves last in any given situation; thus their health is poorer and their mortality rate is higher. So with a new dawning, why not develop new attitudes towards the process of caregiving as it applies to today’s lifestyles and generations?

Obviously goals set by those caring full time for a loved one will heavily involve their ill family member. But isn’t a caregiver also responsible for his or her health as well? We should all consider the question of who will care for the ill party if the caregiver falls too ill to provide the needed care. To this end, I offer suggestions to all caregivers everywhere that will not only enable you to take care of yourself, but in doing so may make the relationship with your patient more calming and hopefully less demanding.

Once your goals are set, analyze what outside sources could hinder their success. Attitude is a vital asset, and if you are truly “in control” then only YOU have the power to change that positive attitude. Don’t give away that power-not to a family member, a neighbor, a well-meaning spouse and especially not to your patient. Make the positive attitude a part of your life that is unshakable and there won’t be a hurdle you can’t jump.

Once you feel the positive attitude, it will be much easier to maintain. Negativity will have no room in your life, nor will blaming others for things that happen to you. You still have the power, and to blame means you’ve surrendered that power. Without negativity or blame in your life, doesn’t it seem logical that your “quality” of life will improve automatically?

It’s hard to know where emotional needs stop and physical needs begin for a caregiver. The positive attitude can apply to both, and it’s so very important for all caregivers to take back whatever power has been given away in order to maintain full control of their lives. However, physical needs are also vital to the mental and physical health of a caregiver. We’ve all been told to “take time and read a book” or “take a long walk to clear your mind” but this is simply not possible for all of us. For those who lack the finances to hire home health, we must attend to our loved one on a 24/7 basis while at the same time doing what it takes to maintain our own needs as well. One of the basic needs for a caregiver is relaxation, which will provide tranquility in an already-stressful environment.
Caregivers DO need to spend time alone, even if for only a few moments a day. To think. To feel. To reflect. And perhaps to reassess goals. Time alone allows you to get to know yourself better, which should be an ongoing, eternal process.

Caregivers also need to get outside for both physical and emotional benefits. Mother Nature has a way of providing healing that no television or CD player ever could. It’s also a perfect environment for exercise, which is another essential to a caregiver. You may never have the time to walk down the block, but around the house or up and down the stairs to your apartment could possibly make it a little easier to resume the task at hand.

Most importantly, caregivers must find the time to do something for themselves on a regular basis. Even those who care on a 24/7 basis can take a few minutes to soak in a hot bubble bath, speak to a friend by phone or read a few chapters in a favorite book when their patient dozes off. “Little Things Mean a Lot”…and they do especially to today’s caregiver.

Please don’t waste the chance that this new year/century/millenium provides us. Instead of waking each day to a sense of being overwhelmed, begin waking to the knowledge that you hold the power to make the day into what you wish it to be. That’s not to say people won’t be unpleasant, chores insurmountable or obstacles too tall to get around. It’s saying you have the choice of how you need to react to these stressful conditions and how to take care of yourself when they become too much for you to bear. None of us can predict what each day holds, but we can have the joy of guiding our boat into calmer waters.

Copyright Patti St. Clair 1/3/2000