"Reduce Stress, Increase Joy
Caregivers Can Thrive by Reducing Stress Levels"
By Lisa M. Petsche
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Informal caregivers provide practical assistance and enhance the quality of life for medically frail older people who might otherwise require placement in a long term care facility. Typically, they are spouses or adult children, many seniors themselves.
Their role involves physical, psychological, emotional and financial demands. It is a heavy load, exacerbated by the limited availability of community support services. A common phenomenon is caregiver burnout, due to the physical toll and emotional strain of caring for a relative who is chronically ill.
If you are a caregiver, consider these strategies for not only surviving, but also thriving.
Reduce your stress
- Learn as much as possible about your relative's illness and its management, and educate family and friends to help them understand. Knowing what to expect and how to deal with challenges can go a long way to reduce anxiety and foster a sense of control.
- Accept realities you can't change and focus instead on those you can influence.
- Pick your battles; don't make a major issue out of every concern.
- Use positive self-talk. Emphasize phrases such as "I can," "I will" and "I choose."
- Practice relaxation techniques, starting with deep breathing.
- Nurture your spirit. Do things that bring inner peace, such as meditating, praying, reading something uplifting, journaling or listening to soothing music.
- Create a relaxation room or corner in your home - a tranquil spot you can retreat to in order to rejuvenate.
- Develop a calming ritual to help you unwind at the end of the day. Avoid watching the news before going to bed.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices: eat nutritious meals, get adequate rest, exercise and see your primary physician regularly.
- Seek ways to streamline your life. Set priorities and don't waste time or energy on unimportant things. Simplify necessary tasks, letting go of the need for perfection. If finances permit, hire a housecleaning service or a personal support worker or companion for your relative, to free up some of your time and energy.
- Be flexible about plans and expectations. Take things one day at a time.
- Minimize contact with negative people.
- Don't keep problems to yourself - seek support from family members, friends or a counselor. Join a community caregiver support group (some offer concurrent care), or an online (Internet) group if it's hard to get out.
- Accept offers of help. Ask other family members to share the load. Be specific about the kind of help you need. Also find out about services in your community that may be of help now or in the future.
- Find out about funding sources that may assist with the cost of prescription medication, medical equipment, transportation to appointments, home health services and community programs. (Consult the non-profit organization associated with your relative's disease.)
- Take advantage of respite services in your community, such as day-care programs and facilities that offer temporary residential care. (Inquire at your local office on aging.)
Increase your joy
- Stay connected to people who care, through visits, phone calls, e-mail or letters.
- Cultivate a healthy sense of humor. Read the comics, watch a TV sitcom now and then, or rent funny movies. Don't take yourself or others too seriously.
- Do something you enjoy every day, perhaps calling a friend, savoring a cup of tea, reading the newspaper or engaging in a hobby (revive a former pastime or try something new). Make it a priority, even if all you can manage is 15 minutes at a time.
- Put together a pamper kit of items that give you a lift - for example, a favorite magazine or CD, scented candles, fragrant shower gel or body lotion, a face mask, foot balm, nail polish, or gourmet coffee or tea – and delve into it when you find your spirits drooping (or better yet, on a regular, preventive basis).
- Bring a bit of nature into your home: get a plant to nurture or buy fresh flowers every month.
- Do something nice for someone who is going through a difficult time. It will bring joy to both of you.
- Create little things to look forward to: a visit with a friend, calling a long-distance loved one, watching a favorite movie, ordering takeout food, buying a book you've been wanting to read or getting something new to wear.
- Plan a special outing with or without your relative - to a restaurant or perhaps a cultural or sporting event.
- Focus on the good things in your life, such as supportive relationships, and seek beauty and tranquility through appreciation of art and nature. Learn to live in the moment, enjoying life's simpler pleasures.
- If you think looking out for your own needs is selfish, remember that you can only take good care of your relative if you take good care of yourself.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.