How a Caregiver's Life will Change in 3 Stages

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Caregivers aren't given a warning for when they'll need to take on the role. For the average caregiver, life changes for them overnight. Psychologist Lital Levin talks about three stages of caregiving and what to expect when caring for loved ones.

If I've learned one thing from consulting families in crisis, it's that we're all caregivers. If not now, then in the past or the future. Taking care of family members is a natural part of life.

For many, the instinct is to dive into the caregiving role without any hesitation. After all, it's what their loved one would do for them if the roles were reversed.

However, taking on a full or part-time caregiving role does have consequences. As much as life has changed for the loved one, the caregiver also goes through an adjustment period. Many people choose to focus on the loved one, pushing their own discomfort to the side.

This is dangerous. If the caregiver fails to acknowledge how much their life has changed, their mental and physical health may suffer in the future.

The 3 stages of caregiving: advice and tips

When it comes to analysing the caregiver's role, I separate it into three stages. These are: 

  • The functional stage 

  • The interpersonal stage 

  • The intrapersonal stage

1 - The functional stage 

The functional degree relates to the ongoing, daily tasks that come with being a caregiver. When someone becomes a caregiver, they have to spend a lot of time handling new responsibilities they’ve never had before. These typically include things like:

  • Taking their loved one to medical appointments 

  • Changing their living environment to suit their loved one's needs 

  • Hiring and managing people to help 

  • Making decisions they've never made before 

  • Ensuring their loved one's safety 

  • Creating an entirely new schedule to suit their loved one
  • Day-to-day caring activities, such as feeding, toilet breaks, etc.

Caregiving is very demanding and can take over the caregiver's entire life. Carers often heap pressure upon themselves to be ‘perfect’ and find themselves overwhelmed by stress.

Sharing the responsibility and dividing the tasks as much as possible is not a privilege, but a must to avoid burnout. It is important for the caregiver to understand the amount of time spent daily on these kinds of tasks and define their limits by what is considered ‘good enough’.

2 - The interpersonal stage

The second degree is about personal relationships, specifically, the changing relationship with between a caregiver and their loved one – often an elderly parent.

The role of the parent and the child changes – from an independent parent to being the dependent, from a child to being a caregiver, all while dealing with the parent's gradual loss of functions, physical, cognitive, or both.

This change in the relationship, which is already complicated and has a history, might be overwhelming and bring to the surface old feelings as well as brand new ones.

On the one hand, it might bring along negative feelings such as frustration, guilt, helplessness, and even anger. And on the other, it might bring about positive feelings like a sense of privilege, satisfaction, compassion, or the possibility to amend the relationship and even bring the parent and child closer together. 

This degree also includes other relationships. It includes siblinghood – the role each sibling takes in the caregiving process, as well as the dynamic of the overall situation. It also includes other relationships, such as a spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends – all the people who might be impacted by the time dedicated to the process of caregiving.

Being aware of these challenges is the first step to making the necessary changes. Planning might help reduce the negative impact through simple actions, such as planning in free time on a weekly basis to guarantee quality time with loved ones.

3 - The intrapersonal level

The third and final degree is the intrapersonal level. This includes the emotional and psychological process the caregiver is going through. The spectrum of feelings is wide, from positive ones, such as one of personal gain or growth, to negative ones, such as sacrifice or guilt, all while in between struggling with thoughts about death and the meaning of life.

The most important insight a caregiver should derive from this is that we need all the help we can get and plenty of support. Too many caregivers keep these emotional whirlwinds to themselves and don't seek help. Yet, truthfully, caregivers shouldn't feel ashamed of getting all the help they can get.

It's so important for caregivers to make room for their personal needs. They need to take time to practice self-care and realize they're a separate person to their loved one.

Opportunities and seeking support

Caregiving is undoubtedly challenging. Yet it is important to remember that taking care of a loved one also carries a sense of meaning and closeness. It may even provide the opportunity to heal complex relationships.

In order for this to happen, an awareness of all three degrees of caregiving is crucial. The caregiver needs to be aware of how much their functional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal lives will change. Being aware of all three levels is the first step since it is usually easier to intentionally neglect them and set them aside.

However, it’s not just about being aware of these levels, but also about being compassionate to oneself.

If you're a caregiver and feel like you're struggling in any of the above three stages, please find help. You're not alone in all this, and support is out there.


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