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Stress: Caring for Yourself while caring for another

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Millions of Americans provide care for an older relative or friend with a physical disability or cognitive impairment. Research shows that only 5% of caregivers give up their role as conditions worsen. Being a caregiver is rarely a short-term job. While the rewards of helping a loved one are great, caregivers are susceptible to negative effects on overall well-being, as well as their physical and mental health. If the caregiver is also raising a family, working full time or has existing health issues of his or her own, these effects can be even more harmful. Avoidance is rarely an option, so what's a caregiver to do?

People cope with stressful situations in different ways. If you are dealing with caregiver stress, you need to find the methods that work best for you. Here are some suggestions:

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
If you are healthy and fit, you will be better able to handle the difficult and often strenuous job of caring for someone else.

ASK FOR HELP
You don't have to do it alone. Don't be afraid to ask friends and family to pitch in, even if it's just to stay with your loved one for a few hours so you can get a much-needed break. There are also professionals and organizations that offer assistance and support for caregivers.

GET ORGANIZED
If others are pitching in to help, assign duties and make a schedule, so people know what to do and when to do it.

DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
If you are caring for someone with dementia, he or she may say hurtful things or act out in other ways. Remember this is a result of the illness and not an attack on you or your ability as a caregiver.

TALK ABOUT IT
Make sure you have a network of friends and family you can rely on for social and emotional support. If you're having a particularly difficult time, seek professional counseling.

KEEP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
If you're feeling down or a bit overwhelmed, remind yourself of the rewards of caring for someone who means so much to you. Focus on the good things.

USE STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES
Simple techniques such as deep breathing or guided imagery can help alleviate stress. Don't rely on alcohol or drugs to reduce stress.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SERVICES IN THE COMMUNITY
Services such as adult day programs in the community offer respite for you and engaging activities for your loved one.

KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Research shows that caregiver stress has less to do with the amount of time spent providing care than with the caregiver's perception of the situation

WARNING SIGNS OF HARMFUL STRESS
Stress can make the caregiving situation harmful to you and to the person you're caring for. Be aware of the following warning signs. You may be experiencing harmful stress if you: