Healthy Ways to Cope With Caregiver Stress

Being the best caregiver means prioritizing your own health and reaching out for help.

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| February 23rd, 2012

Special Issues for Women

Female caregivers experience even greater pressures. Despite their social and economic gains, women comprise 65 percent of family caregivers—55 percent of whom also work outside the home, according to Hunt.

“Women tend to put in more hours than men,” says Hunt, “plus women, of course, tend to be juggling a lot more of the parenting tasks, too, so they may be doing parenting, caregiving and a full-time job as well.”

MORE: Be a Super Mom, Not Super Stressed

Adds Kelly: “Coping daily with a too-long to-do list, feeling that they can't live up to everyone’s expectations and taking on too much of the responsibility for everyone’s happiness will drive women to exhaustion.”

 Often, women’s caregiving is more hands-on and intense. “In general, men tend to take on more of the household, financial and legal tasks,” explains Kelly, “and women do more personal care and keep relationships within the family going. But there are always those men who do personal care, too—especially spouses.” Nevertheless, says Hunt, “women are still the majority of those identified as the primary caregiver and as such, take on the majority of responsibility.”

Coping with Caregiving

How well you manage your stress can determine how well you care for your loved one.  Because your role as a caregiver is vital to that person’s wellbeing and quality of life—and equally important to you—it’s crucial that you take care of yourself to avoid burnout as much as possible.

 You can stay physically strong and keep your emotional batteries charged by following these helpful tips from Kelly:

 ● Make yourself a priority. Caregiving may be the “new normal” for your life at this point, but find the balance, too. Look after yourself by taking occasional breaks from your caregiving role. Seek out agencies and organizations that provide respite care. And don’t forget to ask family members and friends.

 ● Accept help from others. Often others ask caregivers, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Make a list so you can provide them with specific suggestions.

Maintain your own health. As a caregiver, you can’t afford to get sick. Get plenty of sleep. Avoid eating junk food, skipping meals or binging. Find ways to exercise; it helps to relieve depression, boost your immunity and focus your attention on yourself and your body. And stay proactive in your own health care by getting regular checkups and immunizations. Doing mind-body activities such as yoga, meditation, prayer and deep breathing can help. 

MORE: Anxiety Relieving Tips

Communicate with your doctor or therapist about your caregiving role. It is a health risk and should be noted in your personal health record. They can also offer support and suggestions to make sure that you are getting the care you need.

 ● Reach out for ideas and emotional support. Just about everyone has a caregiving story to tell, an empathetic ear or a helpful suggestion. Consider joining a support group. If you are isolated geographically or because of the time and demands of caregiving, think about joining an online group. And seek out information, organizations and resources concerning your loved one’s condition. An informed caregiver is a less-stressed one.

 ● Don’t lose your sense of humor. Laughter is a surefire cortisol-reducer. Some of the healthiest caregivers laugh often.

QUIZ: What’s Your Humor Style?

“There are positive aspects to caregiving, such as giving back to someone you love, learning about your own resiliency and capacity to care, getting to know and making a connection to your loved one in a profound way,” says Kelly. “But you also must protect your own physical and mental health—for your sake and the sake of your loved one.”

 Hunt agrees. “You can view caregiving as something that you are really doing with the community and you can reach out to the community to get assistance,” she says. “You’re not alone—and that’s really a big deal.”

 Jeanette Leardi is an instructor of journaling, memoir-writing, personal mythmaking and storytelling. A longtime freelance writer and editor, her publishing experiences also include staff positions at Newsweek, Life, People and Condé Nast Traveler magazines and The Charlotte Observer.

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