All caregivers have heard this advice at one point or another: "Make sure to take care of yourself." Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. While you can't snap your fingers and make stress disappear, you can utilize certain techniques and resources to manage stress, lower anxiety, and ultimately improve quality of life for both you and your loved one.
The 411 on Caregiver Stress
According to the Mayo Clinic, informal caregivers are responsible for a whopping 80 percent of the country's long-term care.
What do they mean by "informal caregiver"? Simply put: "anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative." And while a growing number of people fit this description -- particularly as the population ages and more non-health care professionals are thrust into these roles -- few actually identify themselves as caregivers. Unfortunately, this discrepancy is a contributing factor to caregiver anxiety and can prevent caregivers from gaining access to critical support.
The combination of fresh air and exercise is good for the body and soul.
Are You Experiencing Caregiver Stress?
Everyone experiences stress at some point or another in their lives. While it is a natural part of life, it can be harmful to your health if left unchecked.
So how do you know if your health may be compromised by your role as caregiver? Common symptoms include feelings of worry, exhaustion, irritation, sadness, or anger, too much or too little sleep, weight gain or weight loss, and frequent headaches and bodily pain. Many caregivers suffering from stress lose interest in enjoyable activities. Others turn to drug and alcohol abuse. Over time, stress makes caregivers more vulnerable to depression and anxiety, as well as medical problems due to insufficient nutrition, exercise and sleep.
So What Can You Do?
Because no one is immune to caregiver strain, self-care strategies are an essential part of identifying and preventing this issue. If you don't think you have the time to take care of yourself, think again; the truth is that the better you take care of yourself, the better you'll be able to care for others.
One of the simplest ways to manage your stress often seems the hardest. Don't be afraid to ask for and accept help. The burden is lightened when shared and in many cases people want to help but don't know what you need. Be prepared with a list of specific, actionable ways others can help. Need someone to do your grocery shopping or take your loved one for a stroll around the neighborhood? It may be as simple as saying "yes" when someone asks if you need help.
Social support is also an essential self-care mechanism. The act of caregiving can be isolating so make sure to stay connected with friends and family members. Even a simple coffee date with a friend can be a valuable pick-me-up. Doing so should not be optional, but part of your weekly routine.
Support groups also offer a built-in community of empathetic and encouraging people who understand what you are going through and can share valuable insights into dealing with difficult problems or new situations, such as caring for a cranky patient or the benefits of elder-massage.
And don't forget about the many community resources available to caregivers. From classes for caregivers of loved ones with a common disease to transportation and meal delivery, these services exist to aid people just like you. Take advantage of them! If you aren't sure where to find these resources, check in with a local community center, assisted living home, or hospital to learn more about programs for caregivers or contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
While the above strategies are essential for caring for your emotional and mental needs, don't forget about your physical health. Schedule regular appointments with your physician to stay up on screenings and immunizations. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor about your feelings of stress and anxiety.
When was the last time you checked out and saw a movie?
Many people also find it helpful to set attainable personal health goals. Whether it's going to bed every night at the same time, drinking eight glasses of water a day, or squeezing in a 30 minute walk each afternoon, these activities can help you stay healthy and keep stress at bay.
While leaving your loved one in someone else's care may not seem like the ideal situation, in some cases it is a necessary decision and can benefit you both. Options like in-home respite and adult care centers provide companionship to loved ones and help for caregivers. Additionally, some assisted living homes accommodate temporary residents while caregivers are unavailable. Whether you're taking a vacation or simply need a break, this coverage can be a critical lifeline.
Ultimately, one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a caregiver is to give yourself a break. Remind yourself that there's no such thing as "perfect" when it comes to caregiving: rather, it is a process of making the best decisions you can...and accepting that doing so is good enough. To learn more about caregiving, check out series of caregiver help videos.
mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.