Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of life. In some cases, a little bit of stress can be a good thing.  However, unmanaged stress can have adverse effects, and even raise the risk of some diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It’s important to keep your stress well managed for both your mind and body. 

Family caregivers in particular, experience an elevated level of stress arising from their caregiving duties.  Seniors also may be dealing with stress arising from aging and recognition of changes in their body, health and cognitive abilities.

tips for managing care giver stress

In order to help manage your stress, it is a good idea to ask yourself where exactly your stress is coming from.  The following are some common sources of stress, and tips for how to manage the stress in each case.

1. Life Changes

In the progression of life, there are inevitable changes.  Moving homes, health changes, dealing with the loss of a loved one, and lifestyle changes all are examples of things that may cause stress.  This is normal, and people react in different ways to changes in their lives.

What you can do:

Communication: Make sure to have healthy communication with loved ones about your wishes, and how they can assist you to make arrangements as comfortable as possible.  Also, talk to others about how you are truly feeling.  Your loved ones can’t help if they don’t know what you’re thinking and feeling.

Be proactive:

You may not be able to control everything in your life, but embrace the things you can take control of. If it means moving homes, actively search for the best available options to make your life as comfortable as possible.  If it means hiring private home help, do your research in terms of sources of care for hire.   If you are recently diagnosed with a health condition, go to the doctor and find options for managing your condition well. Many changes can be stressful, but put that energy to good use and find workable solutions.

Don’t try to internalize and do everything yourself: If something is causing you stress and is becoming overwhelming, consider whether you can ask others to help or delegate certain tasks to others, whether it be family, friends or professionals. 

2. Family and Relationships

The people who love us can often be an unintended source of stress. Try these tips to manage your stress level when it comes to family and relationships:

What you can do

Learn how to say no:

Sometimes we need to take time to ourselves. Think about what is being asked of you. Is it reasonable? Is there someone else this person can turn to?

Improve communications:   The majority of relationship stress arises from lack of proper communication.  Make an effort to not only vocalize how you’re feeling, but also ask questions of your loved ones to understand how they are feeling.    Also, sometimes conversations don’t need to be had. If there’s no pressing issue, or there’s nothing to be gained, step back from those touchy topics that get you riled up.  Be aware of past topics that have caused friction in the past.

3. Job-related Stress

For those readers who are in the workforce, job-related stress is probably a familiar and common occurrence.  While some work stress is probably unavoidable, prolonged high levels of stress can be detrimental to your long-term health.  Time management, organizational pressures and corporate politics are all examples of things that many people struggle from in the workplace.   

What you can do

Get some help:

If you’re in the workforce and also taking care of a loved one, the added pressure of being a family caregiver while working full time will undoubtedly add further stress.  Talk to your employer about what services they may offer within their benefits programs that can help you in your caregiving duties.  Many EAP programs now cover senior or elderly care support in some form. 

Make a schedule and do your very best to stick to it
:  Block off time for the things that always get pushed, such as lunch, responding to emails, returning phone calls, etc.   Equally importantly, make sure that you are scheduling time in your life for things and activities that make you happy.   Try to avoid procrastination, as it is simply a way to prolong or delay stress. 

Are you doing everything yourself? Sometimes we have a tendency to take on too many tasks, for a variety of reasons. Learn how to ask for help. Is there something on your plate that someone else can do? Is there a way to make your work processes more efficient?

Other tips that may work for you

Try some of the following activities to be proactive about managing your stress:

Exercise:

Join a yoga class, go for a jog, try playing a sport with friends, or go for a brisk walk. Exercise can help by releasing endorphins which has been shown to make people feel better emotionally.

Watch your diet:

Examine how your stress is affecting your lifestyle in the foods that you eat and other habits.  Are you skipping meals? Are you eating fast foods or sweets to counteract the stress?   A healthy diet with the right nutrients will help you manage your stress.  Focus on foods rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre and good carbohydrates.  Remember also that omega 3’s are good for brain health and research shows also linked to reducing depression.

Taking time to yourself:

Sometimes, stress management means having time to yourself to do the things that make you happy. Read a great book. Indulge in some TV time. Engage in something creative, like playing an instrument or painting a picture. If you are a primary caregiver for an elderly parent, consider hiring a caregiver for respite shifts so that you can have a break.  These days, you can find and hire caregivers online or through an agency.

Being Social:

Sometimes we don’t realize it, but social activity (even if you think you don’t ‘feel’ like it) can lift a worried mood. Invite friends and family to play board games, cards, to watch a movie, or for a meal. Reaching out more often will also mean that they are more likely to reach out to you.

Get those feelings out:

Whether it’s writing in a journal, or confiding in a friend, sometimes all we need is to lay out our thoughts and feeling to someone. This helps you reflect on your situation, and also get some outside insight on an issue.

We can’t always control what happens to us and our loved ones, but we can manage our stress loads to the best of our ability. Manage your time effectively, be proactive, communicate to others, and take time to engage in activities that you enjoy.

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