Kupuna Transitions: Creating space is key

Welcome to a new year with fresh possibilities! Let’s look at how we can get set up for success. Many of us completely eliminate a vice or start something new at the beginning of the calendar year with the intent to start with a clean slate, wishing there was an actual reset button in life to help those dramatic shifts in our lifestyle stand firm without that habitual pull back toward the unwanted behavior. Many of our relapses toward old patterns are triggered by the need for comfort or familiarity when outside influences leave us feeling uncomfortable or stressed.

So how do we deal with discomfort or stress?

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I believe it is to come to terms with them, accept that they are part of the human experience and understand that the struggle they bring is a part of our full life experience. The choices we make that lead us further from those challenging situations is where we have the greatest power. Being intentional about the commitments we agree to, letting go of unnecessary struggles and keeping our schedules reasonably full rather than overloaded will help us soften those triggers that weaken us in the battle for positive change.

For caregivers, the realization of overcommitment often comes with hindsight, after they have gotten themselves involved in a situation that is difficult to adjust. I noticed a common theme being discussed over the holidays regarding situations where there are multiple generations relying on the primary caregiver in the family. This individual feels taxed by the needs and challenges of their children, life partner and parents, primarily when they all live under one roof. When pressure is coming from different sides, they often feel like they are drowning in responsibility and believe that if they stop, everything will fall apart.

If you are wondering when it will be your turn to have the peace of mind that you work so hard to provide for others, it’s time for a mental reset. You may have the skills, time and desire to be the go-to person for those in your immediate circle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Primary caregivers tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude about their role in their loved one’s lives. Being all things to all people is not humanly possible and loving them dearly does not mean you will not experience negative consequences upon your health for overdoing it.

Some care situations last five, 10, even 20 years, and raising a child only officially ends at 18 years. Sandwiched caregivers dedicate a large percentage of their life experience to others. This can be exceptionally rewarding and valuable time shared with family. However, if you are sacrificing your own well-being through this process then I suggest re-evaluating the entire structure of your situation. Coming up with ways to set clear boundaries is much better than trying to push through, and there are more friends and services out there to offer support than you may realize.

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As the book The Prophet says, we all need space in our togetherness. You may assume that you’re letting others down when they could actually be very understanding and appreciate that your own life needs to be valued as well. Your personal mental health and well-being are critical and you are your own best advocate. Our inner light doesn’t reside in the same place as overwhelm, so find the strength to pull back from excessive commitments and you’ll be set up for positive growth. Now that is a resolution we can all get behind!

Karyn Clay is a gerontological specialist who began caring for older adults in 1994 and earned her B.A. in gerontology from SDSU in 1998. 17 years ago, she founded Ho’oNani Day Center and five years ago, Ho’oNani Care Home, which are located in Kamuela. She invites you to join her monthly Caregiver Conversations gatherings at Tutu’s House and co-facilitated Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Support talks held at Ho’oNani. More community information is available at www.hoonaniadultcareservices.com.