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PTO for Family Caregivers

July 28, 2022

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Taking care of another person is among the noblest things someone can do. And as caregivers know all too well, it is also among the most exhausting. Family caregivers provide vital, life-saving support to elderly parents and loved ones but they also run a high risk of suffering burnout, which affects their physical and emotional health, as well as their capacity to provide care.

Fortunately, some states have special paid time off provisions for family caregivers.

Getting paid time off to care for a loved one

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75% of the American workforce did not have access to employer-provided paid family leave in 2021. That means there was no system in place if a family member fell ill, was injured, or was otherwise unable to care for themselves.  

Having to suddenly care for a loved one is a big adjustment. It requires the re-arranging of personal and professional schedules, which makes family caregiver PTO of such vital importance. 

Currently, the District of Columbia and seven states offer additional family PTO for caregivers, which we’ve listed below. Each of these states’ programs works differently, but you can learn more by clicking on the state in which you are employed below.

In other good news, Colorado and Oregon will begin offering paid leave benefits in 2023 and 2024, respectively. 

If your state is not one of these, the first thing to do is to contact your state’s governor’s office, representatives, and senators. They are going to be instrumental in getting the proper legislation through and making paid family leave a reality in your state. 

You can even start a Change.org petition to show how much public support there is for the idea. 

While there aren’t currently any federal provisions for paid family leave, it is a critical part of the proposed “Build Back Better” plan. The plan is currently still being deliberated in Congress, but should it pass, it will represent a big step forward for family caregivers.

What to do if you don’t have family caregiver PTO

Family caregivers need to be vigilant about their own health and well-being along with that of their loved ones. It is impossible to give the best possible care when you are suffering from burnout, which is a major problem for family caregivers.

Burnout goes beyond physical exhaustion, as the feeling of hopelessness that accompanies this long-term distress takes a toll on your emotional and spiritual health. For many caregivers, the symptoms of burnout often overlap with the symptoms of depression and chronic anxiety. While general exhaustion is often considered temporary, burnout is a chronic problem. 

Common symptoms of caregiver burnout include anger, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, inability to focus, insomnia, irritability, social withdrawal, and more. Taking care of yourself is extremely important, regardless of whether you have paid leave available or not.

To provide your best care, you need to take care of yourself. It seems simple enough, and yet the most simple of best practices can be quickly abandoned in seasons of stress. You may tell yourself it’s temporary, that you’ll focus on your health when the situation stabilizes. This is why you must prioritize your own health from the start. Examples include: 

Exercise 

You don’t require large amounts of exercise to feel better as even basic exercises like walking, stretching, or yoga can make a big difference. A simple 10-minute walk can provide two hours of lift to your mood.

Eat well

People often crave sweets or greasy foods while under stress. These refined sugars and carbohydrates may provide a short-term lift but inevitably lead to a crash in energy. Instead, ensure you eat plenty of plant-based foods and prioritize healthier animal proteins such as fish. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, actually work to improve your mood.

Follow good sleep hygiene 

Most people need between 7.5–9 hours of sleep per night. If you struggle to get enough sleep, there are simple ways to improve your slumber. These include going to bed and waking up at the same times each day, limiting caffeine intake after lunch, daily exercise, and turning off your screens 30–60 minutes before bedtime. 

Minimize stimulants and depressants 

Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all give the perception of helping us when we are tired or stressed. In reality, caffeine and nicotine increase anxiety, and alcohol can deepen feelings of depression and reduce the quality of your sleep. Under stress, we are more likely to become addicted to these substances, which will only worsen in a season of burnout.

Stay connected with friends and family 

Identify a small number of your closest friends and/or family and check in. More importantly, ask them to check in with you. Phone calls, visits, and even simple text messages provide a welcome distraction, invite encouragement, and allow you an opportunity to share how you’re feeling. 

Find backup caregivers 

Personal responsibilities like work, errands, and appointments don’t stop just because you’re a caregiver, and every family caregiver needs backup. Talk to siblings, family friends, neighbors, or a home-health provider to see if they can share in your responsibilities. The additional help provides you with vital time to step away, recharge, exercise, and attend to responsibilities.

Take advantage of respite care 

This vital service temporarily places your loved one in assisted living care. Many facilities and organizations offer this service, which can provide primary caregivers with a 1- to 2-week break to take a vacation, attend a business trip or conference, or simply catch up on sleep and personal responsibilities. 

Join a support group 

With more than 50 million family caregivers in America, you are not alone, and odds are there is a group of fellow caregivers in your community who would love to listen to and share in your experience. 

Get counseling 

Family caregiving can give rise to complicated emotions, and there is no better way to unpack your feelings than with the help of a professional counselor or therapist. Many confidential, licensed options are available at a variety of price points, including a clinical psychologist, faith-based providers, non-profit counseling centers, and online providers like Better Help. For recommendations, ask a trusted friend, doctor, or religious leader.

Connected Caregiver(™) will keep you updated

We will continue to provide updates on the status of paid family leave as it relates to family caregivers. We’ll keep you informed as Colorado and Oregon roll out their plans as well as if any new states announce programs to follow the example these other states have set.

Hopefully, there will soon be a national standard of help for family caregivers so that they can spend the time they need taking care of their loved ones without compromising their own finances.

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