Managing Caregiver Stress

Today is National Stress Awareness Day, Caregiver Stress is a very real problem for those caring for loved ones. There are some things which can be done to manage the stress. 

It’s an understatement that being a caregiver for an elderly loved one is stressful.

Caregiver stress is a very real problem and in general, by the time you accept that you are in the role of “primary caregiver”, the need to help your elderly parent is already advanced. You may have some “catch up work” to do so you can establish some controls over your aging parent’s medical situation, finances and lifestyle.

To make the stress of the task more acute, in many cases neither the caregiver nor the one being cared for like the situation and often the caregiver didn’t volunteer for the job. The senior citizen receiving the help is often hostile, resistant or even downright disagreeable to the necessary changes that the caregiver must implement. Because it is often the caregiver’s mom or dad being taken care of, there is the added challenge of established relationship norms, such as what they say has always been what goes. But now the caregiver may need to make some decisions and that reversal of roles is hard for both parent and child to get used to.

Caregiver stress can come from a variety of sources including the elderly senior citizen, expectations of other siblings and even from an internal high set of standards.

If you are a caregiver, you may have the attitude that “nothing but the best is good enough for my mommy or daddy”.  And while that sounds good in theory, being a caregiver is all about compromise. They may deserve your attention 24/7 but realistically if you can drop by for an hour a day and then spend the rest of your day taking care of your job, your kids, your spouse, your housework and, oh yes, yourself, that is probably a reasonable expectation.

So right up front, it’s good to recognize that as you settle into the job of primary caregiver for an aging parent, there is going to be an increase in stress in your life. Stress has been identified as one of the big causes of physical and mental health problems for adults. Some stress in life is expected and is good for us. But when caregiver stress gets added to everyday stress, it can begin to overwhelm you, you can go through a decline of your own health that is not good for you, the one you are caring for or anyone in your family either.

The family of the caregiver, can assist the caregiver in many ways.

The caregiver is on the forward line of a struggle that really the whole family should be involved with. If you live a great distance from your parent and your brother or sister is doing the caregiving, be aware of the stress they are under and try to be supportive. You can do all you can to help out to take some of the stress off.  Perhaps you can coordinate with the other distant siblings and relatives to call your parent regularly and take some of the relationship pressure off the caregiver sibling. 

Above all, if you have suggestions for the caregiver, give them in love and without “nagging”. That sibling is painfully aware that she is carrying the load for the whole family so communicate your support and gratefulness and that your suggestions are meant only for mom or dads good, not to criticize the hard work your sibling is doing.

But the one person that can do the most to deal with the stress of being a caregiver is you, the caregiver.

It is important that you view taking care of yourself as much a part of your job as caregiver as any other duties you do. You are a huge resource to your mom or dad so take care of that resource for their sake as well as for yours. If you do, not only will you be a better caregiver, you will live happier and continue taking good care of your family and other responsibilities as well. And that’s a healthy approach to care giving and the only approach that will work if the job goes on for a long time.

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