Many people never reach their sixties, seventies, eighties, and beyond. Others develop chronic or terminal illnesses. Some people are born with disabilities or become disabled due to an accident. In all of these cases, a caregiver is often needed. In families, one person typically fills this role, usually, a woman, who balances career and family responsibilities.The responsibility for caring for an aging or ill family member can take its toll on the health of a caregiver – physically, mentally, and emotionally. In addition, caregiver stress can lead to burnout and physical illness. Learn ways that you can ease caregiver stress.
Caregiver stress is real.
Caring for another person brings its own pressures and stress. For example, when someone else’s health is your responsibility, it can feel like a huge burden. Add other factors like financial instability, your health issues, family responsibilities, another job or career, and being the only person available to care for a loved one, and the higher your risk of caregiver stress and burnout.
The symptoms of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
- Feeling sad or depressed.
- Isolating from others.
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Eating too much or too little.
- Rapid weight gain or loss.
- Irritability or anger.
- Headaches and unexplained body aches.
- Getting sick more often.
These symptoms can lead to issues at work and home, as you may have little patience with people. The worse you feel, the more you will let your health slide, and the lower your self-esteem and confidence will drop. Now is the time to get a handle on caregiver stress.
Tips for easing it.
Caregiver stress can lead to several problems. Before your stress level gets out of hand, prepare ahead of time if you can. First, read through the tips below if your emotions are headed in that direction. Then, see what strategies you can start today to feel better. For example, can you take a fifteen-minute walk to unwind and move your muscles? Is there someone you can call and ask for help?
Ask for help from friends and family.
Your time is limited if you are the only one providing full-time care for a family member. Create a list of tasks that other people can do. You or your family members probably have friends that would love to help but are unsure what they can do. With a prepared list, you can allow them to choose how to help.
For example, these tasks could include picking up groceries and medications, doing light housecleaning, or transporting your loved one to an appointment. In addition, there may be someone who loves your family member as much as you do who would be willing to visit for a few hours while you run personal errands.
Work on your health.
When we devote our time and attention to caregiving and doctor appointments, we often miss our own screenings. We cut out exercise and grab quick meals on the go when our time is tight, But when we take these shortcuts for too long, eventually, they catch up with us.
Your health is as essential as the health of your family member. You are the person that keeps the balls in the air. Take the time to exercise and plan healthy meals. Ask a nutritionist about quick ways to prep meals for the week. This is something you may be able to do once a week while your family member naps or while someone is visiting the home.
Schedule your annual screenings during your birth month to make them easier to remember, then ask others to fill your role as a caregiver on those days. As long as you give plenty of notice, you will be surprised at how many people will be willing to lend a hand.
Establish a routine.
Establish daily and weekly routines for yourself and your loved one to ease caregiver stress. For example, your weekly routine could include grocery and medication pickup or delivery on Mondays, errands on Tuesdays, and deeper housecleaning tasks on Wednesdays. Having a weekly routine of when you do things will enable you to schedule help when needed. It also gives you a sense of relief knowing that a task will get done on a specific day.
You can split daily routines into morning, afternoon, evening, and bedtime. Every family’s routine will be different depending on your needs and situation. For example, you might spend a few minutes in the morning making breakfast and unloading the dishwasher to fill it with dirty dishes throughout the day. Your afternoon routine may be to clean your family member’s bedroom before they watch a favorite movie or television show. Get creative about what needs to get done and when.
Find a support group.
You can find support groups for just about any illness or disability. A support group is an excellent resource for learning more about a specific condition and how to manage its symptoms. In addition, you can meet other caregivers in the same situation. For example, if your loved one has dementia, you can find a local support group whose members have loved ones with the disease. These people can offer guidance on what to expect and how to handle scary situations and provide names and numbers of organizations you can turn to for memory care services.
If you are looking for a broader group, research caregiver support groups in your area or online. You can find caregiver groups that closely match your situation, such as groups for female caregivers who work outside the home or for male caregivers of ill or disabled spouses.
Use caregiver resources.
Caregiver resources are available, although you may need to look online or check with your local Area Agency on Aging office. Your loved one’s doctor may also know of organizations that can help you.
Respite care is valuable when you need a break to take care of personal errands or a day off. Respite care is available at home or a facility if your loved one is currently staying elsewhere. Adult daycare centers are open during the day and offer adult programs to keep them entertained, socializing with others, and mentally stimulated.
If you are taking some time off of caregiving for a much-needed vacation, you may be able to locate a nursing home or assisted living facility that provides short-term care. These facilities will house and care for your loved one for a few days to a month or so, depending on how long you plan to be gone. They are a more expensive option; however, your loved one is cared for in all areas, including having a medically-trained staff present.
Take leave if you need it.
If you work for a company full-time and fulfill the role of caregiver for a loved one, you may be eligible for a short-term paid or unpaid leave. Each company is different, and you must check with the Human Resources Department for qualified programs. If you are experiencing caregiver stress and concerned about its effects on your health, ask about leave.
Many companies offer FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act). FMLA allows you to take up to twelve weeks off from work without losing your position. It is an unpaid leave, so you will want to have another option for income during this time.
In addition, some people pay into a separate account for emergencies like illness, maternity leave, and caregiving. If you know ahead of time about your loved one’s condition, you may be able to open one of these savings accounts and ask about FMLA at your company.
Are you experiencing caregiver stress?
Being a caregiver to a family member is one of the most demanding jobs. If you work a job (either outside the home or from home), care for a family, and have other responsibilities, it may feel like you are slowly losing your mind.
You may be experiencing caregiver stress symptoms. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment with a therapist. Your therapist will specialize in caregiver support and aging and geriatric issues. Call us today.
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