If you’re a young professional and you have a friend who is a caregiver, you’ve seen them at their best and worst. They probably put on a strong front, and their schedule is always held in tension by their responsibilities. You probably can’t believe how much they’re able to juggle when you can barely handle your life, and although you keep it on the inside, they’re an inspiration when you’re feeling overwhelmed and worn out by the daily grind.
But sometimes, when you look a little closer, you can see the stress on their face and hear the strained edge in their voice. It’s the little things. A frazzled “I’ve got to get dad his medicine,” or a side exchange with a boss: “Look, I just need five minutes!”
In fact, now that you think about it, that happens a lot more often than you realized.
Caregiving can be extremely demanding, and while some hide it well, most caregivers are actually under an enormous amount of pressure. Caregiving takes many hands, and small lifts make a lighter load. Let’s take some time and consider these 4 ideas for how to support caregivers in our lives who are giving of themselves to support a loved one in theirs.
1. Offer to Help
There’s an old adage about helping people that is as true today as it has ever been: don’t ask if someone needs your help. Offer to do something.
Most people—not all, but most—tend to tell others they don’t need help when they really do. Everyone knows how it goes, and it’s not so cynical as “so-and-so just doesn’t know how to help themselves.”
What’s really going on there is that your friend in need loves you and they simply don’t want to impose. It’s a very normal, empathy-based reaction. They think of how busy they are, they assume your life is crazy too, and they wouldn’t want to make your life harder either.
Or whatever. Look, we all know the thing every good friend says next to a bestie who’s clearly at the end of their rope, but hey, they’re at the end of their rope!
In that situation, knowing how to support caregivers is easy. Don’t query, quantify. Say, “can I do X for you?” (or even better, “When should I do X for you?”).
If they have kids, offer to pick their kids up from school. If they have a late night, offer to bring them dinner (disposable pans, easy reheat. Lasagna, anyone?” Even just texting and bringing them a coffee is an amazing way to fill the gap in their availability with a soul full of the warm fuzzy fuel they need to keep at it.
2. Help Them Make Space for Themselves
It’s time for some facts. On average, 55% of caregivers suffer from depression. That’s awful, and by some strange coincidence, the average percentage of caregivers who report feeling lonely and isolated is also 55%.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not here to say I can statistically prove those two incredibly identical data points are related, but I’ll tell you what I do know for sure:
I’m a Millennial caregiver who is part of a generation that is 40% more likely to become caregivers for an aging parent just like me. And it’s very, very easy to lose track of your friends when you’re suddenly completely responsible for another person and become lonely, isolated, and depressed.
It’s not that they don’t care. You lose contact because they’re overwhelmed with immediate concerns, and one of the best ways you can support a caregiver is by making an effort to maintain the friendship while they figure out their new life.
Text for tea. Plan for lunch. Cook lunch for them and hang out chatting. Even offering to help them with their caregiving chores is an opportunity to socialize and develop those oh-so-important bonds that—let’s face it—we all need.
Ya. Birthday. You can make that happen.
Seriously, you have no idea how little time caregivers have to think about themselves. Even buying a cupcake from the store and plopping a single candle in it would mean a lot to someone who’s so busy they can’t even remember which birthday this is.
4. Be an Exercise Partner
OK…I’m not judging…but c’mon. You kinda needed a gym buddy anyway, right?
Exercise matters for all of us. Being in good health is good for our self esteem, our energy levels, and our bodies, but for caregivers it’s critical.
When you’re crazy busy, the first thing to go is your own physical health, and it’s why caregivers are at significantly increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic stress, obesity, diabetes, and even some cancers.
The bottom line is, you can be a huge influence for good by just being a workout buddy. Tired people who want things often just need a nudge and a fist bump. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you!
It’s hard watching a friend who’s struggling in a new caregiving role slowly give up trying to take time for themselves. Knowing how to support caregivers isn’t always obvious from the outside.
The I-Ally community is a support network of industry experts and caregivers just like them who know the pitfalls young caregivers can find themselves in when taking care of a loved one.
If you have a friend who needs a community and support, consider connecting them with I-Ally and help them get on the road to being a caregiver for themselves too.