Family Caregivers are real heroes in the lives of those for whom they care! They juggle busy schedules, manage any number of challenges every day, and handle whatever comes their way. If you care for someone full-time, or if you manage the care from a distance, you are going to have stress in your life
Family Caregivers experience stress in a variety of ways; your success in managing your stress level will have a direct impact on your health and your ability to care for others. Family Caregivers report loss of sleep, poor eating habits, elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, limited physical activity, and a frequent or constant sense of anxiety or failure as manifestations of the stress in their lives. These issues can lead to chronic health problems that will hinder or even prevent your ability to continue providing care to aging loved ones.
Some things I’ve learned over the years that help me manage my stress include regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, limiting caffeine, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. When I go to bed regularly, plan exercise for times when I can control my schedule, and keep a water bottle going all day long, I find I am more patient and calm when someone says or does something that might get under my skin. It’s easier to take a deep breath and remember that those words probably weren’t meant to be hurtful. I am stronger as a person and as a Family Caregiver when I am more centered and focused.
Likewise, when I’m not doing these things, I am out of balance as a person and as a caregiver. I’m more tired, less creative, and quicker to react in anger or frustration. My response time is lagging, and my productivity in all areas of my life suffers. It’s just not a pretty picture!
In order to best manage my stress levels, I also have to assess what I do during my day, to determine what I’m good at and what I really hate doing, so I can find other ways to take the things I’m not good at off my plate. For example, I love to cook, but I hate menu-planning and shopping. I can find resources that will plan my menus for me, and some will even do the grocery shopping and deliver to my home. I avoid pushing the shopping cart through the crowded aisles, and blissfully chop carrots and onions in the comfort of my own kitchen.
To succeed at managing the stress in your own life, you need to first assess how much stress you are feeling. Here’s a link to a Family Caregiver Stress Assessment Tool.
Once you’ve taken the assessment, you should have a good idea of how stressed you really feel. Then you can develop a plan to help you manage your stress and regain a sense of balance and control in your life.
Also, remember that the person you are caring for also has stress in their life. Their stress might be caused by loss of independence, loss of ability, loss of a sense of self-worth, loss of life as they once knew it, or even loss of memories. It is your job as a Family Caregiver to recognize your loved one’s losses and try to ease their sorrow or pain. You can even help them forget their losses for a time, or enable them to discover new abilities in this time of their life. But to find these new paths, to bring light to another’s darkness, you must be at your best. When you get a handle on your own stress, and develop strategies that manage and even moderate or alleviate that stress, you can feel good about putting on your Superhero cape for another day of giving great care and being a Hero for someone special in your life!