Being a caregiver can be fulfilling and allow you to take care of the loved ones in your life, but it can also be incredibly stressful. You’ll be doing physically demanding work, often for long hours, and at the same time, you’ll be forced to watch your loved one deteriorate mentally and physically.
What steps can you take to manage your stress as a caregiver? And what should you do if the stress becomes too much to handle?
If you’re volunteering your time to provide care to a friend or relative, consider getting paid for your efforts. Through programs like FreedomCare, if the person you’re caring for is on Medicaid, you may qualify for an hourly rate for your services. Depending on your relationship with the person you’re caring for, you may also be comfortable asking for a stipend or regular payment.
Getting paid doesn’t magically make your stress disappear, but it can make things more manageable in your own life, especially if you’re struggling financially. Dedicating many hours of your time to someone else is a big sacrifice, and making some extra money doing it makes the pill easier to swallow.
Prioritize Your Own Health
Next, prioritize your own health. As a caregiver, it’s typical to want to do everything possible to help the patient for whom you’re caring. But if you sacrifice your own needs for them, you could end up experiencing burnout and rendering yourself unable to help at all.
These are some of your most important priorities:
It’s recommended that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, though individual needs vary. If you’re losing sleep due to stress, physical exertion, or other factors, it’s important to make things right and commit to a consistent sleep schedule. If you’re still having trouble sleeping after that, talk to a doctor about what options are available for you.
· Healthy eating and hydration.
Even a small drop in your hydration levels can lead to a drop in both cognitive and physical performance, so it’s important to drink water throughout the day. It’s also important to commit to healthy eating, reducing your portion sizes, and sticking to nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.
Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you exert yourself physically while providing care, but exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and improve your health. Make sure you get at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity each day.
Remember Why You’re Doing This
In your toughest moments, remember why you’re doing this. You want to provide help and support to a person you love. You’re going to have to put up with some very difficult circumstances in the meantime. These difficult experiences are temporary, but every night, you should go home feeling confident that you’re doing something good for someone who needs it.
Focus on the Present
Oftentimes, we become overstressed when we focus too heavily on the past or on the future. If you dwell too much on problematic incidents that happened previously, or if you worry too much about what could happen in the future, you’re going to lose your mind. Instead, it’s much better to focus on the present; focus on getting through each individual moment if necessary. Mindfulness meditation is an awesome tool to help you do this, stripping away the past and future so you can center your mind.
Take breaks as often as you can. It’s a good idea to take small breaks throughout the day, to give yourself an opportunity to both physically and mentally recover. It’s also important to take some time away from caregiving on occasion. If you’re providing care every day, or if you’re adhering to a fixed schedule for months at a time, it’s going to wear on you. Stepping away is one of the best ways to relieve stress and make your caregiving more sustainable.
Recognize when you are at your limit and don’t be afraid to get help. Depending on the circumstances, that could mean recommending another caregiver, enlisting the help of family or friends, or making preparations for a different kind of care.
Create Your Own Support System
Finally, create your own support system. Talk openly about what you’re going through with close friends and family members in your own life. While you’re at it, make sure you spend at least some time doing things you truly enjoy.
Most caregivers describe their jobs as highly rewarding and worth the sacrifices, but you can’t use that as an excuse to ignore the stress involved. You must manage your stress actively and consistently if you’re going to stay sane and continue providing long-term care.