How to juggle multiple senior care jobs and the stress that comes with it
While rewarding, being a caregiver for seniors is a demanding career choice. Countless responsibilities are required for the role, not to mention your full attention and patience. And that’s just caring for one person. Many caregivers have to take on multiple jobs to make ends meet, or to manage a full-time schedule with a care agency. Somewhere in between their busy schedules and desire to give their all, caregivers have to carve out a little personal time for themselves, their loved ones or their children. Balancing caregiver work and a personal life can, at times, seem impossible.
If you’re a caregiver who is juggling multiple senior care jobs, you know your day-to-day tasks can sometimes seem overwhelming. You may be feeling the weight of stress and obligations on your shoulders or wonder how you’re ever going to get it all done. However, with careful planning, organization and self-care, it is possible to do it and in a healthy way. Here are a few tips to help.
1. Find jobs that are close to each other
If possible, take on jobs that don’t have a long commute, which can eat up a lot of time in your day. Even if your home isn’t very close to your charges, they could be grouped together in one area so you can easily get from job to job throughout the day. If you can avoid driving all over the place to get to each job, you’ll have more time to get things done and feel less frazzled.
“I only accept care positions in my city,” says Jerrica Allen, a registered nurse from Thornton, Colorado. “This prevents problems with traffic and snow and makes it easier for me to keep my schedule with three different families.”
Pro tip: Use the Care.com job map feature to apply for senior care positions that are only in your “radius of desired work.” This prevents you from applying to jobs you realize, belatedly, are too far away to manage other schedules.
2. Have backup plans
Things don’t always go according to plan and often when you least expect it. Save yourself the stress of handling emergency situations on the fly by creating backup plans with each of your employers. Review your daily routine and tasks and create contingency plans where necessary. Is someone else available to pick up your child from school in case there’s an emergency with someone under your care? Is there another caregiver or a charge’s family member who can check in on them in case you’re running late or unable to make it? When you’re better equipped to handle something unexpected, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress when it happens.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It’s easier to have backup plans in place when you can trust others to help you out in a crisis. Caregivers can’t do everything on their own, and that’s perfectly normal. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for support. You might ask your employers or another caregiver to lend a hand when you need it.
“You may also need to discuss additional help with your employers,” Allen says. “Sometimes, your charges will need more care than one person can give them, and their families may not realize that until you bring it up.”
4. Be honest about your limits
To make ends meet, or because you really love your work, you may overextend yourself. Tim Murray, the CEO and co-founder of Aware Senior Care in Raleigh, North Carolina, says this is a common phenomenon among caregivers. The best way to prevent yourself from overscheduling yourself or feeling pulled in too many directions, Murray says, is to “consider your desired schedule.”
Do you want to work 40-hour weeks, or do you want to only work 30 hours? Are you OK with commuting longer distances, or do you want to stay in your area? Are you OK with working with seniors who need more physical help, or do you want to work with individuals who are more mobile? Get clear on what you really want, and stick to those wishes. You should also make them clear with the families you work with. Explaining your schedule and availability upfront can create a structure for your weeks, and prevent you from agreeing to something that is not in line with what you want your work week to look like.
5. Stay organized
Take a good look at your multiple job schedules to see when you’re working and when you’re off. Use a planner, app or the calendar on your phone to keep your schedules for each of your senior charges in order. Write down important dates like doctor appointments or set alarms for medications. Proper scheduling ensures you’re getting breaks, sleeping enough and have time off the clock.
“To care for an individual, you need to be at your best,” Murray says. “If you aren't, it's very difficult to provide quality care. This means you need to budget time and rest for yourself.”
6. Take care of yourself
At-work responsibilities can take a toll on the mental and physical health of a caregiver. Many caregivers suffer from stress, which then increases the risk of stress-related diseases and mental health disorders. Women who care for elders in addition to children or another job have an even greater risk of suffering from depression or chronic illness because of stress.
Stress from caregiving can cause trouble sleeping, a loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating and much more. It can also affect the quality of your care. These are all reasons why it’s important for caregivers to “budget time,” as Murray calls it, and to make their health and wellbeing a priority. For caregivers who aren’t used to self-care, taking a break can be difficult, but it should be made a habit. Self-care is not a luxury, as working nonstop to the point of exhaustion can lead to caregiver burnout.
All of this affects your health, as well as the quality of care you provide. Jocelyn Nadua, registered practical nurse and care coordinator at C-Care Health Services in Toronto, Ontario, says the best remedy to this is to take care of yourself first.
"If you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked or your mental health is not in a good state, it is nearly impossible to give your patients the attention they require,” she says. “You will simply be too distracted and consumed by your own thoughts or fatigue that you may miss something important.”
To remedy this, Nadua recommends doing something for yourself every day.
“Whether it's a bubble bath at the end of your shift or reflecting on your thoughts in a journal the moment you wake up, create some sort of self-care ritual so that your needs are being recognized and tended to, as well,” she says.
And remember: You don’t have to work all the time
As a caregiver, you likely have a hard time “turning it off.” You may find yourself taking on more work because you have a free day or because you’ve met someone in need. However, an overly full schedule isn’t going to serve you — or your senior charges — in the long-run. You also need time off.
Distance from work is the best way to provide time for you, and it’s critical for your mental and physical health.
“I try to have off at least two days a week,” says Tawny Stammen, a CNA with BrightStar Care in Madison, Wisconsin. “I like to spend one of my days off doing a fun activity, such as attending a sporting event, and one day off spent by myself in a relaxing environment.”
At the end of the day, your ability to care for others is only as good as your ability to care for yourself. Caregiving is so fulfilling, but it can also be draining. Give yourself time to recharge your batteries and get some distance from work. You’ll come back to each of your senior charges ready to care for them in a way that is much more rewarding.
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