Acting as a caregiver for an elderly family member is very demanding. You have to deal with all of the pressures of normal life and the added issues that come with the responsibility for another adult. It’s the caregiver’s duty to stay on top of things such as doctor appointments, insurance paperwork, cooking, cleaning, bathing, and even dressing the elderly loved one. It’s a difficult road to walk and the pressure can be severe. Here’s what some caregivers suggest as ways to cope.
Take time for yourself
Being a caregiver doesn’t mean you give up who you are. It doesn’t mean you have to stop taking care of your needs. If you don’t take care of your own needs, you will eventually burn out and won’t be able to care for anyone else.
Don’t feel guilty for needing time for yourself. Whether it’s a short afternoon break to visit a coffee shop or a few hours to shop, you deserve some “you” time. Reach out to your support network—such as family members or friends who have expressed sympathy—and ask if someone can stay with your elderly loved one for a little time. The time off will have a good effect, and improve your ability to provide the care your loved one needs when you return.
Find a way to let your emotions out
You need not be a stoic to provide care. It’s not healthy to try to suppress your emotions. Let them out and you’ll find you feel a lot better.
There are several ways to do this. You can enter a room, shut the door, and cry into a pillow if you need to. Or, you can start writing a journal. This will help you vent your feelings constructively. Even if nobody ever sees the journal, it will help you cope.
Whatever you do, you should not try to suppress your feelings. It’s not healthy to do so and it will directly impact your ability to provide proper care for your elderly loved one. It’s perfectly appropriate to feel a range of emotions at these times: anger, fear, bitterness, sadness, anxiety, guilt and so on. But these feelings don’t define who you are. Trying to suppress them will only hurt you and your elderly loved one.
Exercise. A lot.
Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress. If you’re feeling the strain, put on your jogging shoes and go for a quick run. Even if you’re only gone for 20 minutes, the feeling of wind blowing through your hair as the road melts away under your feet will be a great reprieve.
If you cannot leave the house, there are plenty of ways to get the exercise you need. Try jumping jacks, or a jump rope, or even just pushups. This helps vent your frustration and provides you with a necessary healthy outlet. Studies show that a healthy, fit body handles stress better than an out-of-shape one. So, the message is clear: go out and get some exercise.
Don’t isolate yourself
As a caregiver, you need a support network now more than ever. Don’t cut yourself off. Even if you cannot leave the house, the Internet provides ways to reach out and connect with people who care.
You can find online chat groups dedicated to providing moral support. Or, if you have a friend or family member to whom you wish to talk, you can use one many available video chat programs. No matter how you do it, make sure you reach out and talk to someone. It will help you more than you realize.
List your reasons for being a caregiver
Write down why you do what you do. Start a list today and add to it whenever you think of another reason for being a caregiver. Then, during times when you are frustrated and want to walk away, you can read the list. It will help you re-center yourself and remind you why you are sacrificing so much.
Don’t be afraid to say “no” to someone
Surprisingly, some people will ask you for favors even when you’re already deeply involved in responsibilities. Whether it’s someone asking you to serve at your church or a neighbor who needs something, it’s alright to tell them you just cannot do it.
The words, “I’m sorry, I just can’t add anything to my plate right now” will help free you. Don’t overextend yourself. There are usually plenty of others who can meet that request.
Following these pointers can help make the difference in your experience as a caregiver. Remember when it comes time to seek help, check for support groups and relevant blogs online. You can do it!
Chien, Ling‐Yu, et al. “Caregiver support groups in patients with dementia: a meta‐analysis.” International journal of geriatric psychiatry 26.10 (2011): 1089-1098.
Hudson, Peter, and Sanchia Aranda. “The Melbourne Family Support Program: evidence-based strategies that prepare family caregivers for supporting palliative care patients.” BMJ supportive & palliative care 4.3 (2014): 231-237.