At Paradigm Living Concepts, we are privileged to work with many professionals, volunteers, and family members who dedicate their time to caring for others. Providing emotional support, physical assistance, financial help, or another type of care can be draining. It’s important that caregivers understand how to manage this stress.
Recognizing Your Role
According to the Mayo Clinic, about 1 in 3 adults in the United States provides care to other adults as informal caregivers. Often family members who are helping to care for an ill partner or an aging relative don’t identify as “caregivers,” but recognizing their role can open people up to receiving much needed support.
We All Experience Stress
It can be rewarding to provide support for a loved one who is coping with chronic illness or complications related to aging or a change in health status, but it can be physically and emotionally demanding, too. It is natural to feel angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, alone, or sad. Additionally, the stress of providing care for a loved one on top of normal daily responsibilities (such as working or managing a home) can lead to exhaustion. When people become exhausted, they are more likely to make poor decisions or take out their frustrations on others – including the loved one they are trying to help. It may be impossible to avoid stress, but issues can be minimized by the way people choose to respond to stress.
Dealing with Caregiver Stress
Some healthy strategies to help caregivers cope with stress include:
Ask for and accept help.
Identify ways that others can help you. For example, maybe a friend could visit the person you care for a couple times a week. Or they might prefer to run an errand or cook a meal for you while you are attending to your loved one. Preparing a list of specific options means you will be ready to accept help when it is offered, and you can let the helper choose which task he or she is most comfortable doing.
Focus on what you can provide. No one is perfect, and it’s important to be as kind to yourself as you are to your loved one. Try to appreciate the ways in which the person you care for is benefiting from your efforts, and believe that you are doing the best you can in both your deeds and decisions at any given time.
Set realistic goals.
Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize and save your energy for what is most important to you and your loved one. It’s ok to say no to some things.
Join a support group.
Support groups are designed to provide validation and encouragement through talking with others who understand what you may be going through. A support group can also offer problem-solving strategies for difficult situations.
Seek social support.
Set aside time each week for a fun or social activity for yourself. Spend time with friends or family who make you feel good about yourself. Enjoying a laugh or even a quick walk with a friend can be restorative. Avoid difficult or judgmental people.
Attend to personal health.
Try to establish a good sleep routine, find time for physical activity, eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of water. See your doctor and get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver, and concerns or symptoms you have – including trouble sleeping.
Caregivers who take care of themselves are better able to be present for loved ones in their time of need. The reward for your efforts will be a healthy, balanced life, and the security of knowing you will be able to support and advocate for your loved one.