Caregiving, by its nature, is stressful because of high demand and low control. In addition, it is more than just a job, and all kinds of complicated emotions are involved, which also cause stress. Furthermore, the caregiving role can be quite time-consuming, not allowing caregivers to take notice of how they are feeling. In order to be effective caregivers, it is important for us to recognize the signs of stress. Then, we are able to relieve some of this stress and perhaps stop stress before it creeps up on us.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
Caregivers may withdrawal from family and/or friends. They may also stop doing activities that were once enjoyed, such as knitting, reading, or walking. Look to family and friends for support. Sometimes we just need to vent our feelings about the current situation. Even if you don’t feel like going out with family/friends, try to force yourself to get out of the house. You deserve a break!
Caregivers may have a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep. If possible, take short naps throughout the day. If your loved one lives with you and has a nap, lie down as well. Try not to think of all the things you have not done. Those things can wait. Your health is more important than running to the store for some milk.
Caregivers may be overly tired from all the caregiving tasks, such as running errands, cooking, and cleaning. They may feel that there is not enough time in a day to do everything they need to do.
Try not to overload yourself each day. Make a list and stick to it. Prioritize your list with the tasks that are most important. You know your limit the best, so if you find yourself getting tired, stop and relax.
Lack of Concentration
Caregivers have so much on their mind that I call it “brain overload.” The mind may be wandering, thinking about what else has to be done. Take things one day at a time. Again, make a list and check tasks off as soon as they are complete. Hang a calendar on the wall, so you can see what appointments you may have and also to prevent you from making more appointments on that day.
Caregivers may find that they are gaining weight due to emotional overeating. Or, caregivers may not eat due to not enough time or no appetite. Being healthy is very important. It will give you more energy during the day. If weight gain is a problem, consult your physician.
You may find that you are drinking or smoking more. Or, you may notice that you have just begun to drink or smoke. Notice you are drinking or smoking more. Try to go for a walk instead or have a favorite healthy snack. Your physician may also be able to advise you on what you can do. But, the first step is to notice that you are having more to drink or to smoke.
With all of the caregiver roles and tasks, it is no wonder why caregivers may be easier to upset or to anger. If you are a family member or friend, recognize that this is normal and it is not a personal attack on you. Instead, it is the caregiver going through so many changes and often difficult to keep up with the caregiver responsibility. If you are a caregiver, speak to someone about how you are feeling. There is nothing wrong with seeking outside assistance to help you through this hard time.
Doing too much and feeling on edge can certainly cause head/stomach aches. Many people get stress headaches. If you’re not sure if your aches are once in awhile or frequent, keep a log every day on how you are feeling. If they are frequent due to your role, cut back on how much you are doing. You may be overloading yourself on tasks.
Nutrition and stress can cause havoc on our skin. You may find that your skin is blotchy or you have blemishes. If possible, exercise and eat healthily, Exercise can help alleviate stress and we know what an important role water plays on how our skin feels and looks.
Sick More Often
If we do too much day in and day out, we cause our bodies to become run down. If we get too run down, our systems can’t fight the bugs that cause colds. Try not to do so much. I keep repeating this tip, but running ourselves down can cause many problems.
Caregivers Feel They Can No Longer Provide Care
This is common in caregivers. Caregivers, please know that this is a normal and common feeling. But, also know that you are doing the best that you can, especially under the circumstances.
Stress Management Techniques
Caregivers can utilize certain stress management techniques in their lives immediately because they do not require much time or effort. This should help them feel better, cope easier, and stay healthier.
Breathing to Reduce Caregiver Strain
Caregivers under stress tend to breathe in a rapid, shallow way. In turn, breathing this way causes other uncomfortable symptoms. Practicing this deep breathing exercise 2 to 5 times per day can help caregivers calm down when they feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Regular practice can also help lessen stress over time. It takes only a few minutes and can be done anyplace, anytime.
Muscle Relaxation to Reduce Caregiver Stress
Caregivers under stress tend to habitually tense their muscles. This can cause fatigue, aches, and pains, and make sleeping difficult. Progressive muscle relaxation can be learned by practicing. There are multitudes of progressive muscle relaxation CDs available. Caregivers who are too busy to practice several times during each day can practice while lying in bed at night, at which time it should help them sleep. By practicing over time, even the most stressed-out caregivers can gain the ability to relax the muscles immediately upon command.
Caregivers Require Sleep to Properly Manage Stress
Difficulty sleeping or too much sleeping can be a sign of caregiver burnout which may require professional help. However, sleep deprivation is a technique of torture because the effect lack of sleep has on the body and mind can actually be dangerous. Chronic lack of sleep due to the patient waking in the night may seem impossible to solve, but it is absolutely necessary for the caregiver’s health to find a way to solve it. Asking a friend, family member or paid helper to take the night shift one or two nights each week should be considered. Sleeping during the day when the patient sleeps is another possibility. Some communities offer free respite care and will sit with the patient while the caregiver goes out or sleeps. Once breathing and muscle relaxation are mastered, sleep will come.
A Healthy Diet for Stress Reduction
A diet filled with caffeine, sugar, and fat can contribute to stress and its negative effects. Caregivers make an effort to feed their patients properly. Taking five or ten extra minutes to prepare healthy food for themselves while they are in the kitchen can help. Caregivers can package the food to be eaten later. When friends offer help, stressed out caregivers can ask them to cook a nice healthy meal.
Exercise Can Help Caregivers Reduce Stress
Yoga is excellent exercise which teaches muscle relaxation. In addition, aerobic exercise such as walking reduces stress, lifts mood, and promotes good health. It’s sometimes difficult for caregivers to carve out time to do this, but once they do it they usually feel so much better than this motivates them to continue. Caregivers should be open to the possibility that there is a way to fit it in.
Caregiving causes a multitude of emotions. It can cause a person to feel two opposite emotions at the same time which is difficult to deal with. Suppressing emotions can lead to stress, anger, and illness. Caregivers may find that sharing their feelings with family members is frustrating, and they may feel misunderstood and judged.
Caregiver support groups are the perfect place to get these emotions out. Many communities offer free support groups and counseling for caregivers. Contact a local office of the aging or senior services center to find a support group.
Although above given techniques can be helpful in managing stress, they are not substitute of medical advice. Anyone experiencing persistently troubling symptoms should seek the advice and care of a medical or mental health professional.