Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress
The following article is an excerpt from:
(downloaded March 21, 2023 from Caring.com)
Caregiver stress doesn’t just affect you mentally- it can also lead to physical problems, including chronic pain. “The mind and body are connected. When you experience stress, there are a whole range of physiological changes — every organ in the body is affected,” says Vicki Rackner, a clinical faculty member of the University of Washington School of Medicine and the author of Caregiving Without Regrets. We recommend the following strategies to help you maintain your own wellness while supporting your loved one.
Seek Professional Guidance and Support Groups
Many people choose to seek the help of a therapist or support group to manage their caregiver stress. “That provides a safe, sympathetic, and constructive environment where caregivers can express their wants and needs,” says Darren Sush, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. Support groups for caregivers, even highly tailored ones such as for Alzheimer’s caregivers or particularly for men, may also be available in your area, though most caregivers find it difficult to get out of the house for support groups in their limited free time. Ask at local hospitals, senior centers, places of worship, or the Alzheimer’s Association.
Ask Family and Friends for Help
Find others who can step in and give you a break. It can be hard to ask for help, but know that your good friends and family want you to be happy. Not only will it give you some time to relax, but those filling in will better understand both your needs and your care recipient’s needs. Make sure to express your gratitude: It’s sometimes a good idea to compensate family or friends informally with things like gift cards, a bag of their favorite coffee, or a dessert to-go. When approaching potential helpers, be specific about what’s required and get a solid commitment about the days and times they’re available to avoid uncomfortable arguments down the road.
Bring Your Employer Into the Loop
Caregivers are often reluctant to bring up caregiving distractions at work, but you may be eligible for caregiving-related programs, including leave time, flex time, free needs assessments by geriatric care managers, and more. Not all companies offer such programs, says Gail Hunt, president of the National Caregiving Alliance in Bethesda, Maryland. But of the 18 percent of the workforce that’s eligible for such programs, only 2 percent are using them, she says.
Adopt a Problem-Solving Approach
Try to break down the tasks of caregiving into specific puzzles to be solved: If bathing is stressful, try to figure out exactly why and what might be done about it. Do you fully understand why people with memory problems say and do the things they do? Are you intimidated by a piece of medical equipment? Defining concrete problems and identifying possible solutions puts you closer to getting help with them and helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by the big picture.
Listen When Your Body Talks
“Pain in your body is like a warning light in your car,” says Vicki Rackner of the University of Washington School of Medicine. “You ignore the ‘E’ on the gas gauge at your own peril. Your body is no different.” Chances are that ignoring a new symptom isn’t going to help it go away; it will only start shouting at you by getting worse. When you start to feel the effects of caregiver fatigue, take it as a sign that you need to give yourself a break. This may involve calling on friends and family for assistance, or considering some form of formal respite care.
Connect With Your Loved One’s Doctor
“Everyone is better served — including the caregiver — if the caregiver is included as part of the team,” Rackner says. Research shows that when doctors find ways to address the unique needs of individual caregivers, the stress load is reduced. Your loved one’s doctor may have some suggestions to reduce your fatigue that can benefit both you and your loved one.
Schedule Yourself In
Caregivers spend an inordinate amount of time with a loved one’s doctors but seldom see their own. Make your own appointments for regular exams, flu shots, dental visits, and the like at the same time you arrange a loved one’s. Some practitioners allow simultaneous visits for pairs who share providers.
Find Healthy Emotional Outlets
Caregivers need at least one safe place to vent. Maybe this is a friend who agrees to listen without judging, or a diary that’s scribbled in and then burned. Peer support from others in similar situations is ideal. Online caregiver forums provide safe places to vent 24/7.
Lifestyle Tips to Alleviate Caregiver Fatigue
Allow Yourself to Have a Social Life
You may be feeling isolated or upset that your old circle no longer seems to check up on you and how you’re faring. But is it possible that you’ve turned them down so often because of your caregiving duties, or that caregiving concerns so dominate your life and conversation, that they may think you’re just not interested in them? So when you do see them, don’t just talk about caregiving. If every conversation concerns one subject, it’s a warning sign that the topic is monopolizing your life.
Take a Mini-Vacation
Vacations are really hard when you have an elderly or disabled person in your care, but a short break can work wonders for caregiver fatigue. Your vacation doesn’t have to be three weeks in France- start small. A simple overnight at a friend’s house or a local B&B, a stay-cation at a nearby hotel to try a new restaurant, or even a day trip to a hiking trail or park. If you’re able, schedule some “vacation time” to simply do something for yourself.
Explore a Hobby
Your hobby doesn’t have to be a conventional one like stamp-collecting or bird-watching, it just needs to be an outlet away from caregiving. Reading novels uninterrupted, taking up knitting, joining a book club, taking, being a matinee-movie addict, or enjoying your children and grandchildren all count, too. Anything that takes you away from caregiving for bursts of time. Bonus points if it takes you out of the house, too.
Plan and Prepare