Haims: Seven ways to manage caregiver stress so it doesn’t lead to burnout (column)
November 13, 2017
Caring for a loved one can be an overwhelming task resulting in stress. The emotional and physical demands can lead to anxiety, depression, isolation and, unfortunately, even resentment.
Conversely, providing loving care does have its rewards. Caregivers are compassionate, patient, attentive, dependable and trustworthy; attributes that enable them to thrive with seniors in need of living assistance. If you are feeling guilty, numb, angry, irritable or exhausted, then caregiver stress may be the culprit.
Alleviating this stress is vital, both for you and the person for which you're providing care. Unfortunately, fatigue-related mistakes, even by well-intentioned caregivers, can be fatal. It's important, too, to protect your existing relationship, prior to the care — whether it's parent and child, husband and wife or otherwise.
Caregiving provides family members with a wide array of highs and lows that can change in a moment's time or over the course of care needed. The one element that can never be replaced is our relationship with our family. If you are caring for your mom or dad, then you are always that person's daughter or son.
Use these seven tips to help you steer clear of caregiver stress, keep your loved one safe and protect (or restore) that loving relationship while keeping your peace of mind:
1. Watch what you eat. Regular, nutritious meals provide your body with the fuel it needs to accomplish daily tasks. Stress can weaken the immune system. Healthy eating helps keep your defenses up against illness. Consider meal-delivery services that will send you a box with healthy recipes and all of the ingredients you need — or some services even prep the full meal for you.
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2. Exercise. Commit to some type of physical activity daily. Moving your body will buoy your spirits and improve your stamina. It can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by anxiety, depression and stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even just a brisk walk around the block counts.
3. Lean on friends and family. When neighbors, friends or family members offer help or to bring dinner over, accept it. Dismiss pride or guilt. There are consequences of caregiver stress and burnout, and they unfortunately affect your loved one. Family and friends want to help. Let them.
4. Hire a home-care service. A home-care professional can help create a customized plan based on your loved one's needs, personality and preferences. The care plan can include a range of services — from bathing and grooming to meal prep, grocery shopping, medication reminders and more.
5. Take a break. You are the most qualified person to offer your loved one care. You also need and deserve downtime.
6. Realize you're not alone. Caring for someone around the clock can be isolating. Maintaining a social life is important to your emotional well-being. Schedule weekly calls to friends or family, or seek support groups for people in your situation so you can learn from other's experiences. You can meet people in your local community who share your interests via a website like meetup.com. Join Facebook groups to meet other people and combat social isolation — whether it's groups of other caregivers, groups based on your interests or groups based in your community. You are not alone.
7. Get your rest. Sleep is vital to good health. Stress disrupts sleep, especially if the demands of caring for your loved one extend to the evening. Even a slight sleep deprivation can affect memory, judgment and mood and contribute to obesity and high blood pressure.
If you feel you may be experiencing caregiver fatigue and would like some guidance, then please reach out to Pat Nolan, Eagle County's healthy aging program coordinator. Pat can be reached at 970-328-8840. For people in need of support and assistance with loved ones who have memory concerns, Eagle Valley Senior Life may be able to provide help. Please reach out to Wendy Miller at 970-977-0188.
It is important for anyone filling the roll of a caregiver to understand they are not alone and asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure. You may be surprised to see how many people will offer support and help — if you ask.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.