Family caregivers face many challenges and unknowns when caring for their aging parents. The struggles of a caregiver can be overwhelming and caregiver stress and burn out are quite common. With proper education, coping techniques and planning for caregiver concerns — family caregiving can be rewarding, satisfying and a wonderful tribute to our loved ones.
Here are a few tips to help ward off caregiver stress:
1. Educate Yourself about Your Loved One’s Condition
- Read books and search websites such as WebMD or the National Institutes of Health to find out more about your loved one’s illness, symptoms, treatments, and what to expect as the illness progresses. And in Houston, Area Agency on Aging offers valuable resources for caregivers. The more you know, the more confident you will be in your ability to care for someone.
2. Explore the Resources Available in Your Community
- Is there a support organization for the condition? Does it have a group in your community? Your local library or social services agency can help you to find these resources.
- Seek support from other caregivers; search “caregiver support” on the Internet and find a group that provides peer-to-peer support (one caregiver to another).
3. Be Realistic About What You Can Do
- Make a list and prioritize all you have to do; concentrate on the most important tasks first and let the lesser ones go if need be. Think about each task. Will it still be so important tomorrow, next week, or next month? If not, scratch it off your list permanently. If the answer is yes, is there someone else (friend, neighbor, children, errand services, etc.) who can assist you? Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
4. Manage the Stress You Experience
- Take it one day – even one minute – at a time, and try to keep your perspective.
- “Change the channel” when negative thoughts enter your mind; steering clear of negative people, news shows, and other sources of negativity will help.
- Practice stress management techniques — Try stretching, laughing, deep breathing, or taking a mini-vacation by closing your eyes for a few moments and imagining yourself on the beach with the waves washing away all your cares. For 10 minutes a day, do something that something that brings you a sense of peace.
- See your doctor if you find that you are anxious, irritable, angry, or depressed, if you feel exhausted, have trouble sleeping or concentrating, if you start withdrawing from friends and activities you once enjoyed, or if you can’t remember the last time you felt well. Don’t be embarrassed to share your feelings; you are not alone. Your doctor can help.
5. Accept Changes
- Grieve for your losses and move on. If you focus on the way things were, you will miss out on the opportunities of today. Treat each new day as a gift, and rejoice in what you have.
- Be open to new technologies that allow your loved one to be as independent as possible. There is a big difference between caring for your loved ones and doing for them.
- Understand that your loved one didn’t ask for the limitations he or she has, and is frustrated by those limitations too. Looking at your role as an opportunity to give back to someone who has loved you may make the hard times easier.
Once you are able to minimize daily stress, you’ll be able to focus on the truly rewarding aspects of caregiving, such as listening to Mom reminisce about her childhood, or spending time in the garden with Dad. Sometimes, a little stress management can go a long way!