If you’ve been a caregiver for awhile, chances are you’ve frequently set aside some of the activities you consider nonessential in order to accomplish the necessary tasks of caring for someone else. The experience of having fun, for example, is commonly categorized by family caregivers as unnecessary or even selfish because, let’s face it, there are only so many waking hours in the day and the demands of caregiving can consume many of them. If that’s your situation—believing that having fun is nonessential and selfish—by this time you might have even forgotten what it was like to fully enjoy social activities, hobbies, travel, or community events.
Rethinking the value of having fun has never been more relevant than for people experiencing unusually stressful circumstances, e.g. caregivers. The sheer enjoyment of fun is not selfish! When have we ever seen research to indicate that having fun is a bad idea? Quite the contrary—the experience of fun and laughter has natural healing properties that can actually protect the immune and cardiovascular systems and improve things like concentration. Making it part of a caregiver’s daily routine is a relatively small investment that can pay huge dividends over the long term, both for the caregiver and the care recipient.
Adding fun back into one’s life might require a redefinition of the term. At the very least, caregivers may need to exercise some creativity in finding enjoyable things to do that can provide fun in less time, while also including the loved one if this is desired or necessary.
As the weather warms, for example, communities everywhere are planning family-friendly events to occur throughout the summer, and many of these are free. A quick internet search will reveal things like town festivals of all sorts, weekly classic movies, and rich opportunities to experience nature.
Whereas in the past we might have been able to spend a lot of time driving some distance to spend a day at the beach with family, let’s get online to explore local opportunities that can be equally satisfying. Were you appointed to organize the family reunion this year? (I certainly hope not, but if so,) keep it local, delegate as much as you can, and decline the temptation to spend time on food preparation. Keeping it simple and protecting yourself from exhaustion in the prep time are keys to optimizing the fun of being together.
Though it might seem ironic to spend time on ourselves with fun activities that could be interpreted by onlookers as frivolous, we actually have an obligation as caregivers to rethink the value of fun for health and wellbeing. This might call for redefining the concept in order to find more accessible options, but making the effort to do so—along with a concerted effort to reintroduce fun back into one’s routine—could make a big difference in the quality of one’s caregiver journey.