According to the Hallmark and Norman Rockwell, the holiday season is a wonderful time filled with family, fun, and food. The reality is often quite different for those facing the challenges of caring for someone with dementia. Especially with the added burden of shopping, preparing, and all the extras that can go along with the season.
Since stress is a part of everyday life for caregivers, it’s not always easy to tell when you are reaching a crises point.
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:
Do you have signs of caregiver stress? Some signs include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
People who experience caregiver stress can be vulnerable to changes in their own health. Risk factors for caregiver stress include:
- Social isolation
- Financial difficulties
- Living with the person you are caring for
- Higher number of hours spent caregiving
- Lack of coping skills
- Difficulty solving problems
- Lack of choice in being a caregiver
Searching through a variety of resources, such as AARP, Mayo Clinic, friends, as well as personal experiences, I’ve isolated 10 keys to help keep your stress in check.
1. Take care of your physical needs first. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of water. Try to avoid sweets or excess alcohol. Get as much sleep as possible; if you have trouble sleeping at night, try napping during the day. See your doctor to get recommended immunizations and screenings. Try to find time to exercise, even if it means you have to ask someone else to provide care while you work out.
2. Be social. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Isolation increases stress. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
3. Join a support group. A support group can provide both validation and encouragement. As an added benefit, others in the same situation can help with problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
4. Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation and meal delivery may be available. Other service providers can include home health aides, homemakers and home repair services. Volunteers or staff from faith-based or non-profit groups might be of help as well.
5. Take a break. You need it. Your loved one might benefit from someone else’s company. Think about respite care by friends, relatives or volunteers. Or try for a weekend or longer vacation by turning to a home health agency, nursing home, assisted living residence or board-and-care home; these facilities sometimes accept short-term residents. Adult day centers, which usually operate five days a week, provide care in a group setting for older people who need supervision.
6. Focus on what you can do. Accept the fact that you simply can’t do everything! Resist the urge to take on more activities, projects or financial obligations than you can handle. If someone asks you to do something that will stretch you too thin, explain honestly why you can’t — and don’t feel guilty.
7. Get organized. Simple tools like calendars and to-do lists can help you prioritize your responsibilities. Always tackle the most important tasks first, and don’t worry if you can’t manage everything. Create a list of ways that others can help you so you can be ready with an answer when someone offers to help.
8. Give yourself grace. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
9. Deal with your feelings. Bottling up your emotions takes a toll on your psyche — and even on your physical well-being. Share feelings of frustration with friends and family. If you experience symptoms of depression — extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death — talk to a medical professional.
10. Stay positive. If you have to, paste on a smile and do your best to avoid negativity. Hold a family meeting or call an elder care mediator to resolve conflicts with siblings and other relatives. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, pat yourself on the back for how much you are doing, and focus on the rewards of caring for someone you love.
If you find yourself identifying with any of these issues, please try to find some way to reach out for help.
If you have found others way to cope, please share with the readers.