Ten Ways to Cope with Caregiver Stress
by Marissa Steingold
When you’re a caregiver, the focus is on the patient. But your health and mood matter too. Caregivers are at risk for depression, anxiety, as well as hypertension and a compromised immune system. When you’re stressed out or overburdened, then the patient will suffer too. Self-care can be a logistical nightmare when you’re taking care of another person, but it’s as important as ever. You deserve to be happy!
If you’re feeling stressed or overburdened, here are ten ways to cope with caregiver stress:
10) Tell people!
Many caregivers hide their stress from everyone else in their lives. Your friends and family might not even know you’re in trouble. People aren’t mind readers—even those closest to you. You have to tell them. At the very least, you’ll feel relief by getting it off your chest. Once those around you know you are hurting, they might offer help or solutions.
9) Accept help for a change
…or maybe you’re a martyr willing to tell people about your suffering, yet too proud to accept help. You can’t give all day every day; sometimes it’s ok to take a break. Have someone take over your duties, cook a meal or pay a bill. Try doing something frivolous, like playing a video game or window shopping.
8) Get enough sleep.
Many caregivers don’t sleep enough, due to stress or the patient’s erratic sleeping schedule. When you’re exhausted, your patience will be tested, and long-term sleeping problems can result in more serious health conditions. Please be careful with sleeping pills. Before resorting to medication, try natural methods like bathing before bed, gentle exercise, meditation, or discuss ways to improve sleep with your doctor.
7) Just say no!
Try not to overburden yourself with extra responsibilities. Do you really need to cook a ten-course meal for your extended family this Thanksgiving? Could someone else pick up the grandkids today? Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t care; it just means you are physically and/or emotionally maxed out.
6) Take a break from your (other) job.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a calendar year, with no interruption to your healthcare. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla
5) See your doctor.
Caregiver stress syndrome is a recognized affliction. Since you are at risk for a myriad of health conditions, it is important to keep up those doctor visits. Tell your doc that you’re a caregiver, and ask her what lifestyle modifications or therapies she recommends.
4) Mine community resources.
See what your community offers. You may be entitled to free or low-cost rides, senior daycare, transportation, meal deliveries, legal assistance, caregiver’s support or other services. Check with your county, or use the Family Caregiver’s Alliance’s services locator tool: https://www.caregiver.org/family-care-navigator
You’ve probably heard this before, but exercise is something of a cure-all, offering increased energy, mental stamina, improved sleep, reduced risks of diabetes, hypertension…you name it! Finding the time to exercise can be challenging for a full-time caregiver, but it can be as simple as dancing/walking/lifting weights in front of the tv. Or take your patient out in a wheelchair and get some fresh air together.
Sign up for an in-person or online caregiving class or webinar. Learn more about your loved one’s condition, caregiving methodology or coping mechanisms. The National Center on Caregiving’s website is a fantastic resource: https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-learning-center.
1) Join a support group.
You’re not alone. You’ll benefit from getting to know others who are in your position. Not only will you be able to share helpful tips, but you’ll also form bonds with other people. So get talking!!