Sunday, February 24, 2013

Caregiver Series II: Dealing with the stresses of being a caregiver.

The daily routine: Manage medication. Manage arrangements for doctor appointments. Manage the finances. Maintain a safe environment. Manage for adequate care when you’re away. Cook. Clean. Loads of laundry. Sound exhausting? It is.

You manage to get through your day and that of your loved one, but it is at a cost. “I feel smashed in the middle of being a mother and a caregiver,” said Christiana Alexander who lives in Nashville. Christiana says that she is often out of energy for her own family.  When she is caring for her mom, she often doesn’t feel the pleasure of her company.  The care of looking after her mother is compounded by the care needs of her mother’s second husband.  They live three hours away. 

Whether caring for your loved one downstairs, down the block or down state, primary caregivers can face the ongoing stress of sometimes performing critical and intricate tasks that once were done by experts or in a hospital. Dr. Steven H. Zarit, a Pennsylvania State University gerontologist states: “The tasks they shoulder have grown more demanding. Family caregivers now administer arsenals of medications and undertake procedures, from wound care to dialysis, that were once the province of medical professions.” Visiting nurses have noted that difficult tasks are left to older caretakers, who may have health issues of their own.

Supervising or giving the care can cause health problems for you. Pennsylvania’s Dr. Zarit and others list some common signs of caregiver stress:

Anger and resentment
Social isolation and loneliness
Anxiety and fear
Depression and dread
Irritability and short tempers
Sleep problems
Health complications 
Poor dietary habits

What can you do if you find yourself with any (or all!) of the signs of caregiver stress?

Psychologists emphasize healthy practices of “mindfulness”.  This is not just an art of focusing upon today.  It is a necessity when yesterday and tomorrow hold either too many unknowns, or the bleakness of stressful repetitions.  “Every day has a piece of relief tucked into it,” suggests Dr. Nancy Giles, a clinical psychologist in Boston.  “Your job is to see that lovely color or smell a comforting flower or listen to a beloved piece of music.”  Humor is essential. It actually promotes healing, inside and out.  Where do you find it in the sickroom or among hours of tending tasks?  Take ten minutes to try a book of short stories or cartoons. Exercise is a great help and can be fun to do with music.  Most of all, respect yourself.  Nothing can survive neglect.  If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot expect to have the strength and fortitude that is necessary to do the job for another.  When you have carved out the niche for yourself and your restoration, stop for one instant and reflect: “That one’s for me!”  Many communities have group meetings to share new ideas as well as the stresses.  

Here are some additional resources that you might find helpful:


Do you have ideas to help deal with the stress caregivers experience? We would love to hear from you! 

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