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5 Tips to Adjust Your Expectations as a Caregiver

You can make life easier by accepting a more realistic version of your role.

A young woman making a list outside.

Branka Primetica, MSW, is the BRI Care Consultation™ Program Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

The demands of caregiving are ever evolving. Yet one thing remains the same: On any given day, much is required of you as a caregiver. It is no easy feat to handle the needs of your loved one, as well as those of other family members, while also juggling work, household chores or other responsibilities. Chances are you often feel overwhelmed. Despite this, do you tell yourself that you have to do it all? Do you burden yourself with unrealistic expectations? Do you feel pressured to meet what you believe to be the expectations of friends, family members or people you don’t even know? If so, you can begin to ease up on yourself by accepting the situation and adjusting your expectations by adopting a more realistic view toward your caregiving role.

Caregiving tasks and pressures can exact quite a toll. In fact, according to an AARP report, caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week caring for family and friends. Furthermore, almost 1 in 4 caregivers spend over 41 hours per week providing care (Pinquart, M. & Sorensen, S. (2003) Differences between caregivers and non-caregivers in psychological health and physical health: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 18(2), 250-267). As a result, caregivers experience higher levels of stress compared to those individuals who do not provide care. About 16 percent of caregivers are emotionally strained while 26 percent state that taking care of their loved ones is emotionally challenging. They often feel frustrated, exhausted and guilty. Does this hit home with you? If so, you can begin now to adjust your expectations and accept a more realistic version of yourself as a caregiver.

Where should you begin to balance your own and others’ expectations? The following tips can help you to meet your responsibilities in a more realistic way:

  • Make a list of all the caregiving tasks you handle. Then draw up a list of all your other responsibilities. While you do this, think about each of the tasks and other responsibilities, and consider the importance of every one. Can you strike a balance between caring for your loved one’s needs and your own? Are there too many expectations? Decide what is acceptable on each list and what needs to change. Remember that, like anything in life, caregiving evolves over time, and adjustments need to be made on an on-going basis.

  • Try not to let yourself get overwhelmed to the degree that you or your loved one are neglecting the relationship you have, whether you’re family members or friends. Don’t put your relationship with your loved one on the backburner. Make a decision to prioritize your relationship, regardless of how your caregiving role evolves. By reminiscing about the past, it can allow you to emphasize new memories and gain acceptance with greater ease and comfort. This can help you to focus on joyous moments, whether they’re brief or longer lasting.  

  • Refuse to let other family and friends take advantage of your time and create unrealistic expectations. Don’t look at it as a direct “no.” Instead, you are telling them, “I need to also take care of myself to continue helping others. Let’s put our heads together and come up with others we can bring into the picture, whether they’re family members, friends, or professionals.” By freeing up some time, you can begin to de-stress.
  • Consider the level of commitment required for any tasks you may be engaging in before you take them on. Are they doable? Are they too challenging? Time-consuming? You may realize that some aspects of caregiving are much easier than others. If something seems too stressful, think about who or what could help. Maybe you could enlist support from other family members or friends. Is there a service provider who could assist somehow? Posing questions and creating a network of support can help balance your expectations with your needs. As you ease these pressures on yourself, you will begin to prioritize tasks and manage time more efficiently.

  • Keep in mind that you’re doing the best you can. It’s natural to feel sometimes that you’ve let yourself or your loved one down. This is why it’s important to adjust your expectations. This is not a race. You do not need to prove that you’re a superhero. You are a caring and empathetic person. You work hard to make your loved one feel safe, happy and loved. You are doing all you can. Accept yourself, your circumstances and your reality. Reach out to trusted friends and professional resources that will help you cope, take care of yourself and get you through the challenging times with an appreciation for all the rewarding moments. Pat yourself on the back for what you’ve done, what you are doing and what you will continue to do. Even if your loved may not be able to clearly express it, you are very loved and appreciated.

There are professional resources that can help answer questions about caregiving and provide you with education and support. To explore the coaching services offered at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, visit WeCare… Because You Do. In addition, the Family Caregiver Alliance provides caregiver information and support, services and advocacy.

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