At some point in life, many people find themselves in a position to care for either a disabled or elderly parent, friend or other family member. Though caring for a loved one demonstrates a great deal of love it can also become stressful for the caregiver due to the physical, emotional and mental demands.
According to the National Center on Caregiving, family caregivers have an increased risk of depression, lack of self care, excessive use of alcohol and drugs and often suffer from chronic illnesses. It is important to remember that you also have a responsibility to care for yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself you can’t effectively care for someone else.
My siblings and I have had to manage shared responsibilities to care for our elderly mother. My mother has dementia as well as other health conditions which require attention, time and special care. I know first hand how stressful care giving can become as well as the effects when more responsibility falls on one person who is also juggling other positions and responsibilities. It is common to fail to give yourself the proper care you need as a result of feelings of guilt for choosing to put your needs ahead of your loved one or friend.
Signs of caregiver stress:
- Depression and Anxiety
- Feeling tired or burnout
- Difficulty sleeping
- Over-reacting to small issues
- Excessive drinking
- Neglecting personal responsibilities including self care and personal relationships
- Feelings of resentment
- Poor eating habits
- Feelings of hopelessness or feeling there is a lack of help
- Emotional sensitivity/irritability or crying when interacting with the person you’re providing care for or when they have a need that arises
Effective ways to tackle caregiver stress:
#1. Embrace your decision to be a care giver. Remember your reason for making the decision to become a caregiver. Resenting your choice will create more stress and maybe even resentment which isn’t healthy for you or the person you are providing care for. Reflecting on what motivated your choice can help reduce stress and maintain a positive mindset about your choice.
#2. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Keep in mind what your position as a caregiver entails and what is and isn’t in your power. You can’t change your loved ones current health conditions and you can’t force other family member to play an active role. Focus on what is within your power.
#3 Seek help when needed. Sometimes it feels as if there are no resources to help provide assistance to your loved one. However, there are many local resources available even if it’s just simply providing you with time away from care giving.
Let people know what you need to continue to effectively provide care. I have set up a home nurse to come out to my mothers home twice a day to assist with her care which gives all of her children a little relief. This is an option that can be covered by medical insurance. Another thing I did to relieve pressure off of my sister and I is setting up delivery for medications. Other options are adult day care or enrichment settings that provide your loved one with activities and social engagement with other adults. Explore your options and don’t hesitate to use assistance offered by friends and family.
#4 Make it a priority to stick to your normal schedule of events and maintain healthy connections. If you begin to eliminate the things you do that make you feel good or bring a sense of pleasure to your life you will begin to experience resentment. You should surround yourself with positive people who are willing to extend their support to you. It becomes an easier task when you have a loving support system you can turn to and enjoy time away with.
#5 Understand the person’s condition. Make sure you are educated on the illness and how it affects the person you’re caring for. This will give you a better understanding of the best ways you can be of assistance and how to adapt to changes.
#6 Empower your loved one to utilize their strengths. If you put more emphasis on strengths instead of weaknesses such as the things your loved one can do to assist his or herself it will be a great help for you. Make sure the strengths are realistic and in their ability.
#7 Don’t be afraid to say no. Again, some things are not within your power and ability. Don’t be afraid to say no to requests you aren’t comfortable with.
#8 Take care of your physical needs. Physical exercise, balanced meals and healthy sleeping habits will also reduce or eliminate stress.