Family caregivers are asked to handle a lot. They are responsible for caring for an aging or ailing loved one—meeting their needs in whatever capacity is needed. This description of care is vague, but that is because it is truly an all-encompassing role. There is no handbook, rule book, or defined limit to what care means. For most family caregivers, this means taking on far more responsibility than anticipated and trying to shoulder the burden of care alone. But exhausted caregivers are prone to anxiety, burnout, and depression. How do you know when it’s time to ask for help? And how should you approach that conversation? In this article, we are going to provide some insight: when and how to ask for help.
5 Signs it Might Be Time to Ask for Help
There is no wrong time to ask for help. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for temporary or permanent assistance whether you have been caregiving for a few years or a few weeks. But if you’re unsure whether help is the answer, here are some signs that it’s time to start looking:
Your loved one’s needs may have grown beyond your physical capacity. Maybe they need lifting, dressing, bathing, pushing in a wheelchair, assistance with incontinence, etc. Whatever the case, it may be beyond what your physical strength can safely handle. In this instance, getting some help is the safest and most loving option on the table.
Your Health is Suffering
If you find that you’re having trouble sleeping, are easily angered, are frequently sad, have very little energy, are gaining or losing weight rapidly, etc. the demands of care may have gotten beyond what is reasonable for you to manage. This is not a weakness, instead, it’s your body’s way of telling you that you have taken on too much need to step back. You cannot help your loved one stay healthy while you are in poor health.
You Feel Resentful
A third sign that it may be time to find help is that you are starting to feel resentful of your loved one, their condition, the role you’ve taken on, or the situation in general. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and resentfulness may be an indicator that it’s time to ask for help.
Care is Needed Beyond Your Capacity
If, for example, your loved one has a complicated medicine that needs administering, they’ve quit recognizing you (as can be the case with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia), or have become violent, it’s probably time to ask for help.
Anticipatory grief is a very real and valid emotional experience. You are possibly experiencing grief over the loss of the life you knew, the person you knew, the relationship you had, the future you will no longer have, etc. If you experience anger or deep sadness over such thoughts, you are not alone, and you may need a break.
How to Ask for Help
Even if none of these reasons resonated with you, it is still acceptable to ask for help. Here’s how to approach the conversation:
Turn “You” into “I”
It’s difficult to hold in your emotions during tough conversations, but where possible, avoid “you” statements:
- “You never help me with…”
- “You haven’t been here for…”
- “You always avoid this…”
- “Why won’t you…”
Instead, turn these into “I” statements:
- “I could really use your help with…”
- “I’m feeling incredibly overwhelmed and need…”
- “I need a break.”
This has a much less judgmental tone and will be more likely to result in the help you’re after.
Try not to “beat around the bush” so to speak. Be honest and direct with your thoughts and request. Turn vague statements like:
- “I need help this week.”
- “I could use someone’s help with the groceries.”
- “I don’t have time to get Mom around this week.”
Into more specific statements like:
- “Can you help me out this week by taking Mom to her physical therapy appointment on Thursday?”
- “I’ve put together a grocery list, will you please grab these for me on your next trip to the store?”
- “Dad isn’t drinking enough water, can you contact his doctor for me tomorrow and let me know what she recommends?”
By being honest, direct, and specific, you’ll be more likely to achieve the outcome you desire. These specific statements make clear to the other person how and when to help you. This makes it easier for your friends and family to say, “yes.”
Accept Offered Help
People probably offer to help you in small ways all the time, even if you don’t always recognize it. The next time someone says, “let me know if you need anything” or “let me know if you want to talk,” take them up on it.
Accepting offered help is a great way to start getting the little tasks that eat up your available mental space off your plate.
There is no shame in needing, asking for, or accepting help. In fact, choosing to look for help can be the safest and most loving choice you can make as a caregiver.
The California Caregiver Resource Centers are a network of eleven independent 501(c)3 not-for-profit organizations across California that were created to be a free resource for caregivers in the state of California. We would love to connect the family caregiver in your life with their local Center, where they can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer questions, and explain how they can best support the caregiver in your life.Share this post: