You’re Not Alone: 3 Tips for Combating Caregiver Stress
Today, more adults are caring for their aging family members while still raising young children. Pew Research Center found that one in 10 parents in the United States are also serving as caregivers for elders. This major conflicting responsibility has earned these adults the label “the sandwich generation.” And if it weren’t already obvious, simultaneously caring for children and aging loved ones can take a toll on one’s mental health.
Stress can fester, often being pushed aside to tend to more pressing duties like the immediate needs of family. However, left unmanaged, caregiver stress can have damaging effects for the individual and their family members. Thankfully, there are many ways to combat caregiver stress that are achievable for even the most time-limited caregiver.
1. Build a Network of Support
Taking on a primary caregiver role can make even the most well-connected person feel alone. However, siblings, partners, and friends of both you and your loved one are within your potential support network. Your network isn’t just a list of go-to people who can step in to do the caregiving when you can’t. That network is important to build, but it’s just as important to have people who support you as an individual.
Stay connected with friends to give you some much-needed levity and, when you need it, someone to share frustrations with. Caregiving can be draining, yet sharing how difficult it is often brings on feelings of guilt. Maintaining ties with friends can give you an outlet for expressing tough feelings and a sounding board on caregiving matters.
Outside of your social and familial circle are many professionals dedicated to serving those like your loved one. Adult day facilities provide a safe, mentally stimulating, and social environment to individuals who require such care. But the time may come when part-time care is no longer enough, and you’ll need to explore placement in a full-time nursing home. Medicare.gov has a database of providers that can help you find a facility nearby that best meets your elder’s needs.
But even if your loved one is in a residential facility, that doesn’t mean your caretaking responsibilities are at an end. Sadly, elder abuse impacts up to five million older Americans each year, according to the National Council on Aging. If you suspect abuse, speak with your elderly family member and observe their care interactions with providers. A nursing home abuse lawyer can help you know what to look for, document it, and best protect your loved one. With a professional on your side, your stress will be reduced because you won’t be going it alone.
2. Take Time to Get Organized
In all likelihood, you and your elderly loved one will wish to avoid the move to a nursing home for as long as possible. While this choice may be the best one for their circumstances, it is not without consequences for you. Caregiving may not be your full-time job, but it can feel like it at times. Caregivers spend several hours each day providing care, many times while also working or parenting. So many responsibilities can be draining, but getting organized can help create order out of chaos.
Keep a separate planner or cloud-based calendar for caregiving responsibilities. Layer appointments, medication refills, and important reminders over your personal and work commitments to reduce the chances of double-booking. Share this calendar view with family and other caregivers to keep them up to date and allow easy cross-reference.
Create routines to help you manage medications, meals, and entertainment. By establishing predictability, you can better determine when you can accomplish other tasks outside of caregiving. The reliable schedule you’ve developed will also benefit the person you’re caring for. They might look forward to a favorite show, activity, or meal time, which can improve their mood when that expectation is met.
Retain essential records specific to your loved one’s care in a collapsible folder or digital file. Caregiving can be complex, spanning medical needs, financial support, and final directives. Anything you can do to organize the data you pick up will help you stay on top of it all.
3. Manage Your Health and Wellness Needs
Sacrificing your well-being for another’s isn’t a sign of a healthy caregiving relationship. While you want to provide care for your loved one, neglecting your health can have devastating effects long-term. And in the immediate term, mental health stressors can negatively impact your ability to provide day-to-day care.
Exercise is a well-known method of reducing stress, but making time to work out can feel impossible while caregiving. Carve out moments of movement to give your body some much-needed attention. Take a walk outside or within the halls of your loved one’s care facility to sneak in some steps.
Review your schedule to see whether you can set aside intentional time for exercise. Yoga and Pilates are well-known for their stress-reducing benefits, and many routines can be just 10-15 minutes long. Target activities that don’t require special equipment or going off-site, both factors that can discourage you from following through on your exercise intentions. Walking, stretching, and bodyweight exercises are easily accessible to most and can be done nearly anywhere.
Keep up with annual physicals and screenings, which easily can fall by the wayside when you’re caring for others. Schedule appointments well in advance to allow time for members of your support network to step in and cover your caregiving duties. Build in buffer time for a post-appointment coffee or bring a new book to enjoy while you wait. This found time can help you keep your healthcare commitment and give you a moment to yourself.
Caring for Yourself Is Part of Caring for Others
The pre-flight directive of “put your own mask on first,” has merits beyond air travel. Caregivers can only be at their best when their own needs are met. If they don’t manage their stress, caregivers can get caught up in fight-or-flight responses to notice important details about their loved ones.
Pause to reflect on your individual needs outside of your caregiver role. Acknowledge them and think about which needs are most important to you, even if externally they don’t feel practical. Sometimes, just stepping away from the care environment and the stimuli of devices is all you need. Other times, it’s handing over the reins to someone else for a few hours. Seek support with confidence, reducing your stress so you can continue to provide your loved one with compassionate care.
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