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Coping with Caregiver Stress

Have you ever felt like you don’t know where you’ll get the strength to continue, that you are “burned out”? Burnout is the result of an ongoing stress and the drain of our physical energy, spirits, and emotions. For a caregiver, it begins with too little sleep and exhaustion. You are a very important person whom others are counting on. But, how can you be counted on if you are not well yourself? Remember the long run, so guard your health. Conserve your strength! Prevent burnout!

Suggestions for Dealing with Stress and Preventing Burnout

Pick five favorites from the suggestions below that you are able and willing to do. Can you start today?

  • Make a “to do” list and then decide what is most important.

  • Begin regular exercise—even if you can only stretch in place.

  • Practice deep breathing exercises—as you breathe out, empty your mind of your concerns as you empty your lungs.

  • Affirm and acknowledge yourself—discover hidden skills and talents.

  • Join a support group, or start one—share ideas and resources.

  • Allow yourself to feel the emotions you feel. They are only feelings and not the person you are.

Knowing When to Seek Help

No matter where you are in the journey of caregiving, from time to time you may need extra help and support. Sometimes a good friend can offer the help you need…other times a professional counselor may be better able to guide you. Assistance is now offered through special caregiver programs as well as with private advisors.

You may experience some physical warning signs that you need professional help. These signs may include:

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Frequent headaches

  • Heart palpitations and/or panic attacks

  • Stomach or bowel disorders

  • Inability to concentrate

Seek professional counseling through a care manager, your doctor, an information and referral resource, the Internet, or your religious service agency.

Where to Find Professional Help or Support Group Counseling

  • The community pages of the phone directory

  • The local county hospital or medical society, which can provide a list of counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists

  • Community health clinics

  • Clergy or religious organizations

  • Area Agency on Aging

  • United Way's "First Call for Help"

  • A newspaper calendar listing of support group meetings

Dealing With Boredom

Boredom can be difficult for anyone and fighting it takes creativity. Try changing your routine by…

  • Watching funny movies

  • Taking car or bus trips

  • Listening to music, especially from the person’s youth

  • Converting your television to web TV

TIP: Exercise is an effective way to help manage depression. It seems hard to even think about, much less do, physical activity when we feel tired and hopeless. But an effort should be made! Even a 15 minute daily walk will help your mood by removing that “pent-up” anxiety and increasing your energy. So start slow—but START!

TIP: Getting Organized

We feel more stressed when we are disorganized.Keep papers related to a project together in a folder or envelope.All the envelopes can be kept together in one box.

Tip of the Month

Make Your Life Easier

Problem: I worry a lot because I don’t want to get or spread an infection. What can I do?

Solution: You can minimize the chance of infection by following a few simple rules:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water…

    • before and after assisting someone

    • when returning from outside

    • after using the toilet or cleaning the bathroom

    • before handling food.

  • Wear latex gloves when giving personal care.

  • Wear a mask if there is contact with a disease spread by air or droplets.

  • When cleaning or assisting with bathing always work from the cleanest areas to the dirtiest areas.

Question: I assist someone who takes many medications. I know that the medicine should be handled carefully. What special considerations should I know?

Answer: Some tips to consider are:

  • Never crush drugs without consulting the doctor or pharmacist.

  • Store medicine for internal and external use in different cabinets.

  • Keep a magnifying glass near the medicine cabinet to read fine print.

  • Store most medicine in a cool, dry place—usually not the bathroom.

  • Flush all medicine not currently being used down the toilet.

  • Ask the pharmacist for non-child proof containers if the child- proof ones are too hard to open.

Taking Care of Yourself

When under physical or emotional stress, it is important to avoid foods that tend to make you anxious and more stressed. Try to:

  • Drink (at least eight glasses) of water a day. (Coffee and tea does not count.)

  • Have extra Vitamin C, such as in a glass of orange juice.

  • Eat fruit, whole grain breads, and pastas for energy.

  • Avoid sweetened drinks, which can make you jumpy and provide no nutrition.

  • Avoid products with caffeine, such as coffee and tea.

  • Avoid alcohol. It puts more stress on your body in the long run.

Feeling Good About Yourself

We all have times when we feel we are not doing a good job, have conflicts with family and friends, and feel generally keyed-up. Take a few moments every day, preferably at a routine time, to write in a journal. It doesn’t matter what you write— just let your thoughts pour out. Include at least one positive thing each time you write. As you write, sometimes you will see your sadness, your dreams, or your pride in a job well done. This journal is just for you and meant to be kept in a safe place so you can write exactly how you feel.

Caring Resources Needed!

Each caregiving situation is different.

Marcy, age 41, is a working, single mom. Her mother has Alzheimer’s disease and requires special care. Now Marcy has a second job to pay the extra bills and is feeling overwhelmed. She is also beginning to have concern for her health.

Harold, a 56 year-old dentist with Multiple Sclerosis has other concerns. His wife left him. He moved in with his father but that didn’t work out so he moved out. Neither Harold nor his dad can drive. They are isolated and sad wondering what to do next.

Marcy and Harold’s lives can improve with understanding, guidance and support. Marcy might benefit from a work/life program and/or caregiver advisor to be sure she and her mom are receiving all their entitled benefits. A local brown bag lunch support group may also help. Harold’s dad might regularly visit his son with the help of a community agency that provides volunteer transportation.

A variety of community resources exist to help caregivers. Learn more about them and seek them out!

© 2001 CareTrust Publications, All Rights Reserved, Illegal to Copy Without A License from the Publisher 800/565-1533

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