Respite: When to give yourself a break

If you are the caregiver or parent of an adult with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities you’ve likely been asked, “How do you do it?” You’ve likely responded by pointing out the resources you and your family use to learn new skills and help prepare your disabled family member to experience the world on their own terms. What you probably don’t mention is finding time to take a break from those extra responsibilities – creating a respite plan. 

It may seem self-serving to admit that finding time for yourself is necessary; that’s because it is. 

But, let us be clear. There is nothing wrong with that.

The responsibility you take on as a full-time, or even part-time, caregiver can be enormous. Doctor’s appointments, schooling, activities, daily care, meals, cleaning, shopping, emotional stress, and the list goes on. In between these things, it’s absolutely necessary to find time for yourself, to give your body and mind the time they need to recover and come back to center. 

Here are the most important things to remember when creating a respite plan.

Don’t let guilt get in the way.

This may be the hardest part of preparing for respite. 

Caregiving for a family member can make you feel obligated to bear the full weight of their needs on your shoulders. You may feel that leaving them with another caregiver means they will not receive the same level of care that you give. The truth is, professional respite services and their caregivers are trained to handle the needs of your loved one. In order for you to continue giving the best care you can, you need rest and recovery. 

Rest before you burnout.

Burnout is inevitable. Caregiving is hard work, and often given in addition to day jobs and regular family time. Recognizing that your body and mind are tired and planning ahead is your best option to be sure you get the most out of respite time.

Keep track of your sleep schedule and emotional state. If you begin to notice your sleep is interrupted each night, or you’re getting frustrated easier, it’s time to take a break. If working out is part of your self-care routine, keep track of your progress. Slowing down? Low energy? Take a break. 

Make respite part of your normal schedule.

Plan respite breaks at regular intervals. Generally, family caregivers are advised to set aside one day a month as a “respite day”. However, there is no formula here. It’s okay to plan out more frequent breaks or even a quarterly “extra special” break where you take a longer period break. 

Don’t forget to plan out what you’ll do during your day. It may seem like a perfect chance to clean, get some home improvement projects finished or do your taxes, but keep in mind the goal is relaxation and recovery. 

If you’re swapping one responsibility for another, are you really resting? Not likely. 

Some of our favorite recovery suggestions are:

  • Light exercise – Take a stroll around your favorite park, go to a yoga class or maybe take a leisurely bike ride. Get your blood flowing but don’t overdo it.
  • Napping – There is legitimate research showing power naps do wonders for your brain activity and energy. Get cozy and sleep for a couple of hours.
  • Spa day – Get a massage, facial, pedicure or all three, or give a chiropractor a try. Let someone else take the stress off your body for you, and treat yourself a little.
  • Date morning/night – Time with your husband or wife can be just as relaxing as anything else. Don’t forget to plan time with friends too! Visit your favorite breakfast place, watch a movie or grab a drink. 

While Angel Guardians can’t plan your respite day, we do offer many fun and creative activities for your loved ones with IDDs, and can take over while you rest. Our Very Special People (VSP) Club members get access to scheduled weeknight and weekend events. We even have day services that focus on social skills and independence through our Community Connections program.

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