Yes, it truly is possible to take a vacation!
Taking a vacation as a caregiver can seem like an impossible task. Who will watch over your loved one when you’re away? Not taking time to relax and restore your wellbeing, especially if you are a caregiver in a high stress situation, can be detrimental to your own health.
Make Your Loved One Top Priority
Oftentimes, it can be harder on your loved one knowing you’ll be gone than it is for you to make all the necessary arrangements. Remember that Mom or Dad might be worried, and make sure to put their thoughts at ease. Talk with them about your upcoming trip and make sure they know you’re putting a plan together to keep them cared for and comfortable.
“Every time I would take a short trip, Mom would get lonely and end up calling 911 because she would panic,” said Joan Powell, who cared for her mother at home until it became clear that Senior Living was a better option for both of them. “Once she felt the security of people around her all the time, I felt so much better about being able to take a few days off.”
Use this opportunity to enlist family or friends to “stop by” for visits. If you have a friend who plays bridge or crochets, ask them to stop by to play a game or give Mom a quick lesson. Maybe someone you know has an extensive collection of travel photos, ask him to make a visit and talk about his travels and share the photos. Any activities that will engage your parents and keep their mind off you, will be beneficial.
If you can find a family member who is just as invested in caring for your loved one as you are, that might be your best bet. If a sibling or close family friend is not a viable option, you can hire a daytime caregiver or a licensed home aid, depending on the level of care needed. You could also reach out to an aging life care professional or ALCP (formerly called a geriatric care manager) for guidance or to act as your family liaison if a medical emergency arises.
Gather Important Documents
You’ll not only want to pull together important documents (physicians’ numbers, therapy services, preferred hospitals, etc.) for your substitute caregiver, you’ll also want to have a communication plan in order. Create a list of emergency contacts in the order to be called. You’ll also want to leave copies of any legal documents the substitute caregiver might need, like an Advance Directive or Power of Attorney. If it would make you feel better, and you feel like it’s absolutely necessary, keep your mobile phone turned on to help along the way. (Sometimes knowing no one has reached out can help provide enough peace of mind to truly let go.)
Managing Anxiety and Guilt
Let the guilt and anxiety come, deal with it and then put it away. You have the right to take time off for yourself. But in this type of situation, ignoring a flood of feelings and concerns isn’t going to help. Instead, use the thoughts that pass through as a guide on what you should arrange ahead of time. Then once you’ve come up with a plan, you can let those thoughts pass by. Arranging a trip as a caregiver may require more prep work, but it’s definitely worth it. The absolute best solution to relieve guilty emotions is to find excellent substitute care.
Know the Personal Health Benefits
Refusing to take a break after extended periods of time can lead to a lack of productivity, high stress and even affect relationships. Taking a few days (or weeks) to bring your focus back to yourself, away from the noise of the day-to-day, can help you feel and sleep better. It can also give you time to regroup on your own goals, like eating right and making sure you’re fitting in regular exercise. Breaks help you reenergize.
Vacations are good for the body too. In a small study by the University of Vienna, post time off participants had fewer physical complaints and the quality of sleep and mood improved. Some effects lasted even 5 weeks later. So what are you waiting for?