Are you struggling to care for elderly parents, a relative with a major illness, or small children that require most of your free time?

Many people today are juggling jobs, their families and impossible situations involving loved ones who can’t possibly care for themselves.

This can leave caregivers feeling drained and depressed.

“I stayed overnight in the hospital with my grandfather for a month,” says a friend of ours we’ll call Katie. “I came straight to the hospital right after work every single day. When they released my grandfather to go home, I panicked. He had no one besides me to care for him.”

Many of us don’t live near lots of extended family members. And it’s a sure bet that friends aren’t going to volunteer a lot of help for our parents, grandparents or spouses who are ill.

“I actually thought my best friend would stay with me after I’d had a heart attack,” says an associate of ours we’ll call Gary. “But did I ever get a surprise! I got out of the hospital on Friday, but when my wife left for work on Monday, my friend didn’t show up. I found out he’d gone on vacation!”

If you are in the role of giving care, it pays to examine your resources. Many caregivers in long-term roles of providing assistance often die before the person who is ill dies. The stress of taking on the responsibility of someone’s health and daily comfort is no easy task.

These tips can help:

• Use small bits of help. If someone offers to run a small errand or check on someone for just a few minutes, accept that help. Most people are willing to do something that takes 20 minutes or less.

• Think ahead. For example, if your teenager is free on a Saturday afternoon, ask your child to stay with your elderly relative for a couple of hours. Use this time to take a walk or meet a friend for coffee.

• Work in some fun wherever you can. For example, a friend of ours takes her kids with her to visit her dad at a VA Nursing Home facility. The kids like to visit on bingo night, so they can help their granddad win. Don’t forget that pushing someone in a wheelchair outside in nice weather qualifies as a “family walk” as well.

• Hire some help if you can afford it. You might, for instance, pay someone to stay with your loved one for four hours on a Sunday afternoon.

As a caregiver, you need to define time to exercise and relax, even if it’s just twenty minutes here and there. Read a few pages of a good book or take a short drive to a park for a quick walk.

Having small things to look forward to is a good way to take care of yourself.

Keep a notebook of movies you’d like to watch, restaurants you want to try, and people you enjoy talking with by phone or texting.

Keeping a connection to supportive people and enjoyable activities is critical for relieving stress.

While fun activities are good for self-care, there’s nothing like having people who care about your situation – even if they can’t show up to help. – Tribune News Service