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Relieving caregiver stress

"Caregiver stress" is a frequently used term, but it can show itself in different ways in different people. Stress can be categorized in two ways: physical or psychological.

Physical stress can show up through sleepless nights, headaches, being tired all the time, a change in heart rate, changes in appetite and other bodily signs.

Psychological stress will show itself through irritability, depression, forgetfulness, anxiety, poor concentration and the like.

It's easy to see why caregiver stress can have a negative impact on your ability to provide care for your loved one. If you are experiencing any of these signs of stress, it's time to take care of yourself.

Expand your network of support

You don't have to do everything yourself. And you may be pleasantly surprised how many family members and friends are willing to step in and help, especially if you request help with things they enjoy doing. Identify specific things that members of your support network can assist with. If a friend loves to cook, they may be willing to share a meal with your loved one once a week to give you an hour or two of respite (just make sure they know your loved one's dietary restrictions). A relative who enjoys arts and crafts may be willing to periodically work on an activity with your loved one while you run errands or do something you enjoy like seeing a movie or visiting a museum. If there is a caregiving activity that causes you more stress than others, look around your support network to find someone who can assist with that task. If you do not identify anyone in your network of family and friends, consider bringing in home care assistance. Having a home health aide assist your loved one with bathing once or twice a week may do wonders for reducing your stress level.

Consider respite services

Respite services will provide you with a break from caregiving and give you a chance to recharge and take care of yourself. Respite services can be provided in the home, through a home care agency or a companionship program such as the federal Senior Companion program. Adult day programs provide a community-based respite solution, and give your loved one the chance to interact with their peers in therapeutic and social activities. Some assisted living and skilled care facilities offer overnight respite, so you can attend that out of town wedding or class reunion.

Make time for stress relief

Don't stress yourself out more by planning out complicated stress relief activities. There are simple, manageable things you can do at home that will help relieve stress.

- Take 10 minutes to exercise a few times each day
- Eat sensibly and don't skip meals
- Set aside a few minutes of "me" time each day to enjoy a good book or a favorite activity
- Use humor to lighten your load
- Express yourself creatively—keep a journal, take photos, relax with an adult coloring book
- Adopt relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or visualization
- Get outside to enjoy nature, even if it's just in your backyard or the park down the street.

Join a support group

A support group can offer emotional support, peer networking and advice from others who have "been there, done that."

Many municipal senior service departments offer support groups for caregivers, and some offer accompanying day programs to make it easier to attend. Organizations like the Alzheimer's Association or your local chapter of the National Parkinson's Foundation offer disease-specific support groups for caregivers. You may also participate in an online support community, such as alzconnected.org or caring.com.

Remember the person

If you are feeling the impact of caregiver stress, it is likely that the loved one in your care is feeling it too. Include your loved one in the decision-making process for choosing family members and friends to help. Even if your loved one has dementia, they will still be able to express preferences for care. While it may be hard to muster the patience to work through these choices with your loved one, ultimately both of you will benefit.

A version of this article appeared in Private Health News.