Providing care for a loved one is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. However, despite the feeling of fulfillment, it can become overwhelming “Caregiver Stress” over time. You may not be as positive as you were at the start of this experience. But this is not your fault by any means, as almost all of the people in your position come across the same feeling.
In fact, every one in three adults in the US is providing care to other adults, be it a spouse, parents, or grandparents. So, informal caregiving is a common phenomenon and needs acknowledgment.
Who is a Caregiver?
A caregiver is any person that helps another person who needs assistance in his/her day-to-day tasks. That another person can be an ill partner/spouse, a differently-abled child, or a relative who’s growing old.
Many people out there are helping their loved ones actively, but they do not identify themselves as a ‘caregiver.’ However, that does not mean they do not come across the issues that a formal caregiver faces.
In fact, the issues of informal caregivers intensify further because they do not recognize their role. When they are not cognizant of their role, they do not know how to tackle their issues or receive the support they need.
What is Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress arises from feeling overwhelmed. Being humans, we have certain limitations regarding what we can do or achieve in the long run. When you are having too much on your plate, your mind and body try to communicate that it is time to stop or take a break.
When you are someone’s all-time beck and call, there is a lot more you are trying to do than meets the eye. Just imagine a street performer juggling too many torches in the air. This is you when you are trying to manage your own life along with somebody else’s.
This constant juggling between your own life and your dependents can render you stressed. You may experience caregiver stress emotionally, physically, mentally, and even financially.
Several external factors can contribute to this stress like strict work conditions or meager financial resources.
Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress
As the dictum goes, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Only then, you will be able to help others. The same rule applies to caregiving. If you are not taking care of yourself, you will soon succumb to several health issues that may disrupt your routine tasks including caregiving.
You will only be able to take care of your loved one when you are in high spirits yourself. If you feel that you are falling victim to caregiver stress, take some time out to practice self-care.
Here are a few things you should do if you are struggling with caregiver stress.
You may not be appreciating this natural process as much as you should. If done in the right way, this simple process can be an answer to many of your mental health issues.
All you have to do is to be attentive to your breath and the rhythms associated with it. Find a quiet place, close your eyes, inhale the air (deeply) through your nose, and breathe out through your mouth.
To make this experience more effective, try sitting near a garden or somewhere you can smell the fresh flowers. However, these are not the preconditions of deep breathing.
This exercise is the easiest and the simplest because you can do it anywhere and anytime. Just concentrate on your breathing and sense it; you will feel relaxed.
You can apply different types of breathing techniques to make your experience more productive.
- Mindful Breathing: This technique helps you become more aware of breathing without changing the way you breathe. However, when you focus on the breath, the breathing patterns ultimately slow down.
The act of focusing on the rhythms created by air coming and out of your lungs, mouth, and nose becomes a form of calming meditation.
- Mantra Breathing: Mantra is a word or phrase you say to yourself repeatedly to maintain focus. When you focus on it while breathing, you are able to meditate and relax.
- Square Breathing: This technique utilizes visualizing to maintain focus. When you inhale, envisage one side of a square, and while exhaling, imagine the next side of the square. Keep doing that until you have envisioned all sides of a square.
2. Find an Outlet
Do not bottle up your feelings, even when they seem selfish to you. They pile on with time and then explode suddenly, making you act out. Venting out your feelings, even if you deem them shameful or illogical is better than doing something that will make you regret it later.
You may deem it difficult to share your emotions with someone or think that people would not understand why you are feeling that way. Writing is the best answer in this scenario. Even if you have someone to share, writing is the better option.
It helps you relax and recharge, as it is a soothing activity. Writing down what happens to you every day enables you to reflect on certain aspects of your personality. It helps things get out of your mind and give you a better perspective on what is bothering you.
You can perform a simple exercise as well. Divide a paper into two. Write things that you can change on one side (like seeking caregiving help) while on the other, jot down things you are unable to change, like being the primary caregiver.
Pay attention to things that you can change. And admit that you have no control over certain aspects of your life.
Taking a walk is another satisfying experience. You can go for a stroll outside and think about your day on the go. It will help your stress levels lessen.
You can explore new places, climb hills, or follow a trail. You can take a stroll without having a specific destination in mind. However, keep your cell phone and bus fare with you, as a rough day you had earlier can lead you a lot more miles away than expected.
3. Stay Connected
As you are engrossed in your caregiving tasks, the odds are high that you have been ignoring your friends. Reach out to people who care about you and with whom you can be yourself. Meet over coffee, lunch, or anything that appears feasible.
Socializing rejuvenates you, as it provides a pleasant distraction from your routine tasks. It makes you ready for the next day’s challenges. If you cannot take out time to meet your friends, a phone call or e-mail would suffice.
The purpose here is to break the monotony and have an outlook on what is happening in other people’s lives. Apart from your friends, you can socialize with people who are in the same situation as you.
You can take classes on caregiving that are specifically about the diseases your loved one is facing. Not only that you will be able to learn better ways to provide care, but also you would find people who are in the same boat.
You can also join a support group that will provide encouragement and validation. It will also offer problem-solving strategies for tough situations. Your support group will understand your struggles and will prove to be a good place to strike meaningful friendships.
While remaining well-connected with the outer world is a good idea, you should remember that surround yourself with positive energy. Talk to people who understand you and can give non-judgemental emotional support.
Set aside a certain time every week to connect, even if it involves just a walk with a friend.
4. Set Personal Goals
While you are engaged in helping your loved one get along with life, you may be neglecting your own needs. Has it been a week since you had a good night’s sleep? Or is it been a while since you ate till you felt full?
Even if the answers to these questions are affirmative, you need to focus on your personal health. Sooner or later, you will come across several health issues. In order to avoid that, be mindful of your health.
Set goals to establish a good routine. Try taking adequate sleep, i.e., at least seven to eight hours. Set aside time to exercise, if not daily then for most days of the week. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and make a meal chart for every day. Above all, stay hydrated to be active and positive.
Besides the health goals, organize your daily tasks. Make a calendar that details your full schedule. For instance, if you have a doctor’s appointment for your care receiver, mark it on the calendar.
Jot down your tasks on a day planner or set reminders on your phone. You would no longer forget to give medicine to your care receiver. This would be one thing that your brain will stop pinging you about every few hours.
You can create a to-do list or a checklist for each day to keep everything in order. What happens is that you unintentionally keep worrying about your tasks. They remain stuck in your brain until they are complete. They rather form a clutter within your brain. Making a checklist declutters your brain and relieves caregiver stress.
5. Get a Massage
Massage is one of the most effective relaxants. Find a masseuse you feel comfortable with. A full-on massage in a spa can reinvigorate you. These few hours spent in a spa can help you go through the rest of the week.
However, if you cannot afford a professional massage, you can use a tennis ball or a foam roller. Put the ball on the wall or the floor and roll your aching parts over it.
Another alternative to a spa is self-massage. It is still a good way to relieve caregiver stress. Use your thumb to make circular motions to massage the palm of your other hand or your feet.
You can also get a massage gadget to soothe your shoulders, neck, and body. It is a one-time investment, which can help you survive many tough times.
Check out these Incredible Health Benefits of Massage.
6. Take a Break
It is hard to leave your loved one in somebody else’s care, but it will keep the caregiver’s stress at bay and enable you to do more for your loved one.
Many respite services are available in most of the communities. You can avail in-home respite where healthcare workers come to your home to provide nursing services, companionship, or both.
Some adult-care centers and programs provide care for both older adults and young children. These two groups would get the opportunity to spend time together. This will be a pleasant experience for both.
There are also some short-term nursing homes like memory care homes, assisted living homes, and nursing homes. These homes take care of people for short stays.
You can also ask a family member or friend for help. Brief them regarding what needs to be done, the medicine timings, etc. However, try not to criticize or imply that they do not care for the older person in the same way as you do. Just convey to them the needs of the care receiver.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
You might be too focused on your loved one to realize that you yourself are undergoing some changes. But remember that your health and well-being are even more important, as you will only be able to take care of someone when you are in sound health and spirit.
Therefore, watch out for these telltale signs of caregiver stress.
- Feeling constantly worried or overwhelmed
- feeling tired or exhausted most of the times
- Not getting enough sleep or getting too much sleep
- Losing or gaining weight
- Easily irritated or angered
- Losing interest in everything
- Unexplained sadness
- Frequent headaches, body pain, or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs including prescription drugs. That is the most common sign of caregiver stress.
- Lack of appetite
- Weight Fluctuation
- Inability to focus or relax
Prolonged stress can be detrimental to your health. It can give birth to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and depression.