Caregiving for a family or loved one can be an extremely stressful experience for the caregiver. This stress can have a devastating impact on the caregiver’s physical and mental health and can also generate a wide range of conflicted emotions. Often caregivers find themselves feeling hopeless, as if the situation that they are in is an endless series of days and sad tasks. However, caregivers should not feel this way. There is a wide range of resources and strategies that can help caregivers successfully navigate their stress, no matter what type of caregiver situation they find themselves in.
To begin with, let’s explore what it means to be a caregiver for aging parents.
Although caregiving is used as an umbrella term, it may look dramatically different in different situations.
Many people in their 40s and 50s are now navigating the process of caring for their aging ‘Baby Boomer’ parents. Depending on the parents’ level of medical needs, this can vary from simple tasks, such as grocery shopping and trips to the pharmacy, to more complex and physically demanding caregiving tasks. In addition to these tasks taking up time and energy, stepping into this caregiving role can also bring up a wide range of complicated emotions, as the parent-child relationship is flipped upside down. The emotional wear and tear of caregiving is real and should not be under-estimated.
No matter what your personal caregiving situation looks like, it is important to know that you do not have to go through the process alone. Help is available.
Numerous organizations, such as the Caregiver Action Network, recognize the stress inherent in this process and provide important resources to individuals. These organizations often offer a wide range of links and important information about resources that a caregiver can take advantage of. They may also provide how-to lists on how to successfully navigate some of the most common pitfalls associated with being a caregiver.
The Caregiver Action Network is not the only organization designed to help caregivers manage and minimize their stress. Whereas the Caregiver Action Network serves as an information clearinghouse, directing people to important resources, the National Institute of Aging, operating under the auspices of the National Institute of Health (NIH), provides a reliable information source on a wide range of health and medical information.
For example, the National Institute of Aging offers detailed information on long-term care, recognizing that this can be a confusing topic for many families experiencing the aging process. Caregivers may not understand the costs of long-term care or the different ways that this type of care can be financed, including via specialized insurance policies established for this purpose. Caregivers may also not know about alternative options, such as assisted living facilities. The National Institute of Aging empowers caregivers by offering them the information they need to make the right choices for their families in a fact-based and non-judgmental manner.
Information is invaluable for any caregivers. However, information may be even more vital for caregivers caring for loved ones with devastating diagnoses, such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
In addition to providing information that offers a general overview of the aging process, the National Institute of Aging also provides more specific information geared towards certain challenges. For example, the National Institute of Aging has one page entirely devoted to finding a caregiver to help if your loved one is dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease. Given that many patients with Alzheimer’s struggle with regulating their emotions and may have dramatic peaks and valleys in their behaviors, it can be even more challenging to find support workers to assist in these situations. Finding a qualified aide to step into some caregiving tasks, caregivers may experience a dramatic improvement in their quality of life and a drastic reduction in their stress levels.
Organizations like the ones highlighted above and specialized services such as the Family Caregiver Program at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, devoted to providing financial compensation to individuals caring for injured or ill veterans, can help give people the skills and resources to reduce their stress level. But, no organization will be able to solve all this stress.
Instead, people need to take concrete steps. Some of the most helpful steps that people can take are laid out in detail below.
Often, caregivers push their own emotions into the background. This can happen for various reasons. For example, some people may believe that being a caregiver is their cultural responsibility. In these situations, it may be hard for the person to admit that caregiving is not always easy or fun. In other situations, a caregiver may be so stressed and overwhelmed that they simply may not have the time to process their own feelings.
But, processing these feelings is a must. It is okay and natural to feel overwhelmed and some degree of resentment. Being a caregiver is not easy. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting, even on good days. And when processing these feelings, you need to remember that resentment does not make you a bad person or caregiver.
In addition to the important steps outlined above, another way for caregivers to successfully mitigate their stress is to engage in self-care. Often, when people are stressed or feel time-crunched, self-care is one of the first activities that they abandon. For example, they may think that they simply do not have time to exercise. But, exercise is a proven method to reduce stress and get positive endorphins flowing. Therefore, it is vitally important for a caregiver to find a way to prioritize self-care, even if it only happens in twenty-minute snippets of time.
Don’t forget that self-care extends beyond simply exercising. There are other necessary forms of self-care, such as adequately hydrating yourself and eating regular, balanced meals. Sleep is another essential component of self-care.
Self-care is only one part of the process of reducing caregiver stress. Another good technique is to start journaling. Journaling is a great way to express your feelings without judgment on your own time. Journaling works best if you are completely honest! Do not hold anything back! It is sometimes beneficial to look back on your journal after a few weeks or months to see the progress you’ve made.
As noted above, journaling can be an effective tool to express stress, frustration, resentment, and a whole host of other issues. But, sometimes, you don’t want to vent on paper. Sometimes, you want another person to listen to you and respond. Friends and family members can serve this role, but they are often emotionally invested in the situation. Therefore, it may be beneficial to look for a support group that is dedicated to the issues that caregivers tackle each day. During the Covid-era, an increasing number of support groups have gone online so that you can get the support you need while also keeping yourself and the person that you are caring for safe.
Finding the right support group for you and your personality is important. If the first group does not feel like the right fit, don’t hesitate to look again.
In addition to turning to a support group, some caregivers may find it cathartic to have regular appointments with a therapist. The only downside of this option is that it may not be in everybody’s budget.
One of the most essential skills in being an effective caregiver and being good at maintaining your own emotional and physical health is knowing how and when to balance your responsibilities versus the need for breaks. Some people find it extremely helpful to talk themselves through their tasks, breaking them down into the most basic steps possible. This can minimize frustration. But, if you are still feeling frustrated, then it may be your mind signaling you that now is a great time to take a break. It is impossible to be “on” 24/7.
If you are struggling to find time for a break, then it may be the right moment to think about hiring extra outside help to assist you in the caretaking role. If this is outside your budget or you feel uncomfortable with this approach, do not hesitate to ask friends and family members for more support. You do not have to do everything on your own! Reach out calmly and explain what would help you the most. It is also important to remember that everyone has different skill levels, so try to match your volunteer helper with a task in which they are likely to succeed.
If you do not have any close friends or family members who can step up to fill this role, it may be a great idea to turn to your local churches and schools to see if anyone is looking for a volunteer opportunity.
Another potential solution to help reduce stress is to find an adult daycare program where the person you are giving care to can spend part of every day. There are a few caveats to this suggestion. Not every community offers these types of programs, and many existing programs have been shuttered during Covid. But, if you do have a program like this in your community, it can be an excellent opportunity for you as a caregiver to get a much-needed break. And, it can also be good for the person you are caring for. It will get him/her out of the house and interacting with a broader social circle. This can be beneficial both for the caregiver and the person who is receiving care!
Being a caregiver can be extremely stressful. It can wear you down physically and emotionally and leave you feeling angry and resentful. This is not something that you want. Luckily, there are countless strategies that you can employ to minimize your stress and leave you happy and content in your role as a caregiver.