The demands of caregiving - providing personal care, running errands, keeping up with housework, navigating the healthcare system and dealing with family members - can have both an emotional and physical toll. Add to that trying to balance the rest of one's life, and it is not surprising that many family caregivers experience burnout.
Responses to stress can be classified into three categories - physical, psychological and behavioural.
Physical responses - our body responds to the internal alarm created by stress with a fight-or-flight response, such as rapid breathing, headaches, indigestion or tense muscles.
Psychological responses - we can respond to stress with a change in emotions, concentration, and our ability to complete tasks or interact with others.
Stress can also reveal itself in behavioural changes, such as eating, clumsiness, insomnia or restlessness.
When you are aware of how you respond to stress, you can use these changes as signals. Then, rather than simply addressing the symptom, you can look at your situation, explore what might be causing the stress and work at a resolution. For example, instead of taking a sleeping pill, explore what is preventing you from sleeping and problem-solve that situation.
There are two routes to stress management: learn strategies to help reduce stress once it develops - such as deep breathing, relaxation or exercise or be proactive and change your lifestyle so stress is less likely to develop in the first place. Proactive techniques include learning to be assertive, asking for help and expressing your feelings.
Below are some strategies to help manage the stress of caregiving:
Take time for self-care, such as exercising, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, connecting with others and asking for help. You are not being selfish when you take care of yourself. If you get sick, who is going to take care of both of you?
Have realistic expectations about your abilities. You can provide a certain amount of care, but likely cannot do everything alone. Know when to ask for help and be willing to share the care.
Reach out and accept support. Ask family members or friends to help with some of the day-to-day tasks. Contact community organizations that provide respite care and services for family caregivers. Attend a support group where you can share your concerns and receive support.
Gather information about your family member’s health problems and how their needs are likely to change over time. This will help you prepare in advance for these changes.
Make adaptations around the home or use available assistive devices to allow the person you are caring for to be more independent.
Have a sense of humour. Laughter helps puts things into a positive perspective and relieves stress. Look for the humour in situations and make time to go out and have fun.
Next Month: Remembering to Play
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