As caregivers, it’s really easy to get stuck in a tunnel of daily routines with visibility for only what’s right behind or right in front of us. While incredibly rewarding, our job is an overwhelming and busy one—and we’re giving a huge amount of focus and energy to another soul. Rest assured, there are simple ways to avoid burnout, though, and to put your caregiver journey into a greater perspective.
The fact that you’re taking a step back to explore these resources is already a great start toward lessening stress and growing your caregiver toolbox. One really versatile tool is a caregiver journal, in which you can keep track of your aging loved one’s care plan, air your own emotional hurdles, and set goals for your aging loved one—and yourself.
Writing as Therapy to Care for Your Loved One—and Yourself
Keeping a regular journal can help you to organize your loved one’s care plan and to share your insights with their care team and family. But it’s also important that you take care of yourself as a caregiver, and writing and journaling can offer you respite, a place to express your feelings in private.
Simply by sitting down and opening up your welcoming journal, you are acknowledging the power you have to write your own story, even as you dedicate your full and loving energy to the care of another. Through both organizational and emotional support, your journal can take some stress off of your shoulders. And you can design your journal and your process exactly as you need them to be.
How to Start a Journal
Your daily writing companion could be a simple notebook or a fancy blank journal. It may be a binder or a folder where you keep loose-leaf paper, or printed pages that guide you through questions and helpful recordkeeping. If you feel more comfortable with a computer, you could initiate your journaling process through a digital document or even a spreadsheet. Innovative computer and mobile applications geared toward caregiving continue to emerge that can support your success. The most important thing is that your journal works for you.
Consider what you really need to keep track of on your loved one’s behalf, as well as how you would feel most comfortable putting your thoughts and feelings on record—even if just for your own eyes. I’ve developed a simple example template that you can print out and start using as is, or consider it inspiration as you develop your own ideal process. It provides some straightforward forms for your observations and some questions to guide you to reflect on your own daily experience as a caregiver with individual needs.
A Daily Caregiver Notes Template for Inspiration
Your journal can shine a light on patterns between the measurable elements of an aging adult’s care plan and their overall health and well-being. At the same time, the journal can be a constant reminder to attend to your own needs and well-being. When creating your template, you may want to focus on:
- Evaluating your loved one’s moods and level of comfort: By contemplating an older adult’s moods and ability to engage each day, you can gain awareness of both their natural cycles and those activities or other stimuli that add to their happiness. The same kind of evaluation process can be helpful surrounding your aging loved one’s pain and discomfort. You may identify ways you can help ease their discomfort, or you may gain valuable perspective for medical professionals to determine whether medications and lifestyle conditions need to be altered. Capturing these observations in your journal in the morning and in the afternoon or evening can help to make the picture even clearer: which parts of your care plan are working well and which parts may call for a fresh perspective and goals.
- Reflecting on changes you notice: Changes in your aging loved one’s physical, mental, or emotional state can be great indicators of both improvements in their condition and areas that may call for greater attention. If possible, take the opportunity to check in with them directly and guide them to also reflect on their personal experience and sense of well-being. IOA also offers an interactive communication resource to help you and your loved one bridge gaps in dialogue.
- Keeping track of health practices or indicators: In your journal, you can easily track your loved one’s medicine intake, it’s efficacy, and the symptoms and side effects. As their advocate among doctors and other service providers, the clearer and more organized your view of an aging adult’s experience, the better you’ll be able to promote treatment and lifestyle plans that truly influence their best quality of life. Here, too, you can incorporate a daily tracking system for your loved one’s blood pressure, weight, blood sugar levels, sleeping and waking times, dietary restrictions, and any other particular challenges they face.
- Setting goals: Goal setting can be a great way to zoom out and reaffirm what is important and productive for your well-being, and that of your aging loved one. You may have new goals each day, or you may sustain the same goal for a whole week or month at a time, but writing it down every day can help you stay on track even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. For the sake of your loved one, you may want to reaffirm the doctor’s recommendation that they lose weight or limit their sodium intake. For your own sake, you may need reminders to take time for yourself, to meditate, to exercise, or to visit a caregiver support group every week.
- Reflecting on your experiences: Remember that this commitment to journaling isn’t just about being your best for the one in your care; it’s also very much about being there for yourself. You may even find that your journal functions primarily for your own quality of life—as your own caregiver, in a way. So, be sure to include dedicated space and time to express your feelings and explore your personal, unique experiences.
Just by sitting down with your journal, you can make tangible some of your more intense feelings and sort them out on a page. When you review your journal entries for patterns in your aging loved one’s experience, you can even bookmark sections with sticky notes and bring your journal with you to appointments. That way, your questions and observations won’t get lost or lose their power. With these reflections, you can also keep the family informed of their loved one’s condition and progress. Bring the journal along to your support group sessions, too, and draw from its memory and its strength as you navigate your vulnerable self.
Your journal may forever be for your eyes only, but it can be a versatile and resourceful companion even outside of your intimate writing sessions. Take the time to honestly and creatively invest in your ideal process, and your journal will be an indispensable and lasting component of your caregiver toolbox.
Journaling is just one of the powerful resources within reach for caregivers. At Institute on Aging, we’re always happy to guide you toward other resources, services, and programs to enrich your caregiving journey—and that of your aging loved one as well. Reach out and get in touch with us today.