Caregiving is a harrowing task, whether it comes easily to you or not. After your loved one no longer needs your intense care, however, adjusting to life after caregiving can be difficult as well. Even if you think, or have thought, that you cannot wait to get back to “normal,” it can be an adjustment finding what that normal is as you focus on yourself again.
Allow Time for Grief
If you are facing life after caregiving due to your loved one’s death, you will need to take time to grieve. The Family Caregiver Alliance noted feelings of acute grief can extend well past a few weeks and can be mixed with feelings of relief. Honor these feelings and give yourself time, and a healthy outlet, to process your next steps. You can seek companionship and understanding in a support group setting, as well as working one-on-one with a therapist or counselor.
If you are facing life after caregiving due to your loved one’s recovery, you could still feel emotions similar to grief and relief. You are allowed to grieve your caregiving role and that connection you had with your loved one during treatment. Work with your loved one’s team on a post-treatment plan that includes tangible ways to find a connection with one another in this new, non-caregiving relationship.
Try Something New
You can ease the transition out of a caregiver role by choosing to take on a new hobby or learn a new skill. Take a French class at the local community college, sign up for a kayaking class at the park district, or set a schedule to train for an upcoming 5K. Taking on a new hobby or skill can reinforce the notion that you are much more than just a caregiver; you have more talents and interests waiting to be explored!
While you are exploring a new class or activity, resist the urge to find an opportunity that puts you back in a caregiving position. For example, don’t sign up to visit patients at the chemo treatment center or deliver Meals on Wheels just yet. Let yourself learn how to care for yourself first before pouring your energy into someone else. There will be time for that later.
Commit to Health
Even if you were taking good care of yourself while you were a caregiver, your body is likely still feeling the stress of the role. Commit to giving your body the attention it needs to stay healthy. Visit your doctor and dentist for annual checkups, start a realistic and gentle exercise program, dedicate time to cook healthy meals, and get plenty of sleep. You will find your energy levels and stress-coping skills increase as your body recovers from its caregiving duties.
Note Your Strengths
Adjusting to life after caregiving requires some self-reflection as well. While your caregiving role may have been stressful, you made it through and persevered. Your caregiving role gave you strength you may not have known you had; take time to recognize your accomplishments as well as what you learned during this traumatic time. Take pride in how you handled yourself and how you dedicated yourself to your loved one, and tap into those experiences to give you confidence in life moving forward.
Returning to yourself after caregiving takes time, and it takes support. With a focus on your health, your strengths and your new life ahead, you will make the adjustment with grace and confidence. We are cheering you on!
You don't have to adjust to life after caregiving alone. You can find support through UVA Cancer Center's resources for caregivers.