For many the term ‘respite’ has a very specific meaning. It has strong associations with government-funded in-home or residential care designed to provide breaks for those in a caring role. This is, of course, an aspect of respite, but the word has a broader meaning too.
Respite can be as simple as taking time out or having a break from your responsibilities as carer: a few minutes snatched here and there during the day, an hour or two each week, or a longer planned break. Respite is an individual thing. What counts as time out for you (say, time in the garden) someone else might find an unwelcome chore. So really it’s about choice.
Respite is time spent the way you choose to spend it. It can be time spent at home or away from home, by yourself or with another person. Respite is anything that makes you feel energised, refreshed, and ready to step back into your caring role.
You’re probably used to looking at life in terms of the needs of the person or people you support. So let’s start with the reasons why your taking a break is important to them.
Having some time out can benefit their health and wellbeing.
It can encourage independence, build self-esteem, and provide a broader range of social interactions. When you get back together again, you’ll have different things to talk about. If you support an adult family member or friend, they may feel concerned that they need your help. If you take a break, it may help them overcome any sense of guilt they may feel.
Now, what about the risks to you? Most long-time carers will tell you that your own health and wellbeing will suffer without adequate breaks.
Always putting others first can see you become isolated socially and lead to feelings of resentment and unhappiness. It can also see you neglect your own health needs, including postponing regular health checks or not having them at all. Many family and whānau carers experience depression. Take time to learn and recognise the symptoms and see your doctor if you’re unwell or not coping with your caring situation as well as you used to.
There are serious risks associated with carers becoming exhausted and overwhelmed.
Compassion fatigue and carer ‘burnout’ is an all too real issue for carers. The wellbeing of the person you support depends on your being fit and able to provide quality support – physically and mentally.
Caring can be a tough job, especially over the long term; time out will help you continue to care well.
Think of this section on respite and wellbeing as a starting point. Take inspiration from the experiences of others. Learn to take a broader view of respite – as ‘looking after myself’ rather than just ‘time away’.
Different things work for different people, but your respite plan is likely to be a combination of short and longer breaks: a few moments, a few hours, a few days, perhaps a few weeks; the time you need to rest and rejuvenate.