Tips to Reduce Caregiver Stress
By Joanie Yeomans
Caring for a loved one can be incredibly rewarding but also has the potential for stress and relationship damage. If you take steps to ensure that the caregiving relationship is not allowed to become overwhelming, you can enjoy this special time with your loved one while minimizing the ill effects of stress. Follow these tips to reduce caregiver stress.
Understand the Commitment You Are Making
A common complaint regarding caregiver stress is that the responsibility is more than what the caregiver thought they were signing up for. A majority of family caregivers spend at least 10 hours each week attending to caregiving duties, so be sure that you are going into the situation with eyes wide open to avoid stress later on.
- Make sure everyone’s eyes are wide open. Your parent’s, other family member’s, your parent’s new spouse or significant other’s, and their family’s. Discuss boundaries when beginning the caregiving relationship and throughout.
- Understand everyone’s perspectives and motivations. As the saying goes, “It’s complicated.” We cannot truly know what our others are thinking without having a candid conversation. Likewise, other family members cannot know what is going on in your mind or life either.
- Realize that caregiving duties are seldom distributed among family members in a fair and equitable way. Be prepared to address disparities in creative ways that prevent resentment from building.
Make the Time Special
You can reduce your stress by reminding yourself why it was important to become a caregiver in the first place. Taking the time to enjoy companionship, share memories, and participate in activities together will add pleasure to your time together. This reduces your stress and has a positive effect on the mental well-being of both caregiver and care receiver.
Try not to spend all your time with your loved one performing necessary physical tasks. Often, parents state that their children ‘never spend time with them’ because when their adult children visit, their time is eaten up by necessities like cooking, dishes, laundry, and trash removal. This can easily agitate the family caregiver who is sacrificing their own home life, time with their children and spouse, career, etc. In these cases, what the parent is saying can be different from what they mean. Sometimes, the message is that they are not hungry for food because they don’t move much, but they are starving for meaningful human interaction and touch.
Monitor Your Own Health
It can be easy to get caught up in monitoring your loved one’s symptoms, medications, and meals to the extent that you fail to notice risk factors of your own. Stress can cause increased blood pressure, weight gain, headaches, and depression. If friends and family comment on symptoms that they notice or you feel overwhelming fatigue and other stress factors, seek help and start re-evaluating boundaries. You cannot provide the best care if your own health is not optimal.
If your parent or spouse is resistant to outside help, have a candid conversation about reciprocity. They need to be your caregiver in return by having reasonable expectations of your role. Your love for your senior is not measured by your ability to be superhuman.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Spending time as a caregiver in addition to your regular duties can quickly cause burnout and frustration. When you begin to feel negative feelings about your situation or toward the senior in your care, get help!
- Propose a divide-and-conquer approach to all members of the family.
- Assign tasks based on skills, personality, and location. A sister who lives 600 miles away can still do the grocery shopping online. On trash day, the local brother can pick up and drop off groceries and sack the trash.
- Assign days and times when each child calls mom for a good chat.
- Other family members may not have time to assist or be confident in the role of a caregiver, but they may contribute financially to professional care in order to do their part. A few hours each week of respite care can make an essential difference in your caregiving relationship, health, and quality of life for all impacted.
- If your family is not good at communication and collaboration, consider hiring a professional counselor to facilitate discussions.
- Delegate some or most of the necessary physical tasks to a professional caregiver so you can focus on an emotional connection with your senior and have some life balance.
- Eliminate conflict over how physical tasks are performed by having a professional caregiver who has the time allocated for them and expects to accommodate the senior’s preferences.
Be Prepared for Role Reversal
At some point, your loved one may become impaired enough that they can no longer make good decisions for themselves. Your parents had to make loving decisions for you as a child with which you did not agree, and it is likely that you will have to do the same for them at some point. For example, getting childhood vaccines was probably not what you would have chosen for yourself, but it was in your best interest. Seniors are often resistant to appropriate care in a similar way. As the primary caregiver, it is important that you watch for these transitions and make logical, loving decisions. Do not allow the emotions of anyone involved to put the loved one in your care at risk.
There comes a time when you need to stop:
- Allowing your parent to make decisions;
- Asking them to participate in decisions;
- Informing them that there is a decision to be made.
You will have to be clear-thinking and resolute when that time comes. Having the support of experts like the Care Coordination team at Comfort Keepers can help shift some of the burden from you to the professionals, including your parent’s physician. The team approach will greatly reduce your stress levels as a caregiver.
To be a caregiver is profoundly meaningful and honorable. It also involves a series of nuanced situations and complex decisions. Seek professional help and guidance as needed. Remember that you cannot fix everything for your loved one. You can only do your best and share the journey.