If you’re caring for an aging loved one, you’re not alone. According to the Mayo Clinic®, nearly 80% of long-term care in the United States is provided by informal caregivers such as a spouse, adult child or close friend. Just because the role of a family caregiver is increasingly common doesn’t make the job any easier. Those caring for a loved one with declining health or abilities often suffer from physical and emotional burnout and high, often health-threatening levels of stress.
“The responsibilities of caregiving can be a lot to deal with, even for the most resourceful family members,” says Peggy O’neill, Director of Sales and Marketing at Lions Gate, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Voorhees, New Jersey. “At Lions Gate, we understand the challenges caregivers face and the need for positive ways to cope with stress. If caregivers don’t take the time to care for themselves, the consequences could be damaging for everyone involved. It’s important to know how to recognize caregiver stress and learn positive coping techniques for relieving it.”
Knowing When It’s Time to Take It Easy
Caregivers usually shrug off the most common signs of caregiver stress, such as fatigue and anxiety, as part of the job. However, the long-term effects of these conditions could lead to serious threats to your health and happiness. As stated in the Mayo Clinic’s article “Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself,” caregivers “may be so focused on [their] loved one that [they] don't realize that [their] own health and well-being are suffering.”
Signs of caregiver stress include but are not limited to:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feeling overwhelmed and constantly worried
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Significant weight change
- Frequent headaches or body pain
- Feeling irritable, hopeless or helpless
- Lack of interest in things you enjoy
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawing from friends and family
These symptoms occur most often when caregivers start to neglect their own health, happiness and well-being. Other stressors such as role reversals (“parenting” a parent), lack of control or unrealistic expectations for impacting a loved one’s health can increase the risks and severity of these symptoms, leading to serious health problems such as depression or high blood pressure.
Positive Ways to Relieve Stress
Fortunately, there are many scientifically proven ways to keep your caregiver responsibilities from overwhelming you. In an article by the Cleveland Clinic, “Caregiving: Recognizing Burnout,” experts compiled ideas to reduce stress and prevent emotional and physical burnout. By taking care of yourself, keeping a positive attitude and seeking support, you can manage your responsibilities and alleviate the anxiety they might cause.
Considering implementing these positive coping techniques into your daily life:
Be realistic – Know your limits when it comes to the amount and type of care you can provide. Set realist caregiving goals to accomplish, and don’t be afraid to accept help from family and friends. No one can – or should be expected to – do it all on their own.
Educate yourself – The more you know about your loved one’s needs, the better care you can provide. Understanding your loved one’s condition can keep you from worrying or overexerting yourself unnecessarily.
Acknowledge their condition – Be realistic about your loved one’s health conditions. If they have a chronic illness or progressive cognitive disease like dementia, recognize that you cannot cure your loved one. Your job is to give them the highest quality of life possible.
Accept your feelings – It’s okay to have negative feelings of frustration, bitterness or guilt. These emotions are normal, and they don’t make you a bad person. Reassure yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
Stay connected – Find support from a trusted friend or family member. It’s important for you to socialize with people other than your loved one, as well as have someone with whom you can vent, seek advice and find reassurance.
Find positive outlets – Learn healthy ways to cope with the daily demands of caregiving. Keep a good sense of humor and a positive attitude. Discover ways to relieve stress that do something good for you, such as journaling, exercising or dancing.
Stay healthy – Do your best to take good care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, find time to exercise and develop a healthy sleep pattern.
Make time for you – Allow yourself time to do the things you love. Meet with friends, read a book, pursue a hobby and enjoy what makes you feel alive. Don’t lose your identity beneath your caregiving role.
Utilize respite care – Find an assisted living community or family member who can provide respite care for your loved one every once in awhile, so you can have time to run errands or take a much-needed break.
Join a support group – Many senior organizations offer support groups for family caregivers to meet with one another, share ideas and gain support from people who understand what they’re going through.
Serving Seniors and Their Families
“No one should have to go through the journey of caregiving without a supportive team by their side,” says Peggy. “Our community believes that supporting the families who care for seniors at home is just as important as serving the residents in our own care. Healthy caregivers lead to healthy seniors. It’s that simple.
“To help families, we offer educational programs and events to connect them to excellent resources for providing senior care at home. And in the meantime, our experienced team is just a call or visit away to discuss your most pressing care concerns.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by caregiver stress, don’t wait to seek help. Positive coping techniques can get you the relief you need. Call Lions Gate for help discovering positive ways to cope with your caregiving stress.
Inspiring Wellness Every Day at Lions Gate.
Lions Gate, located in Voorhees, NJ, offers a continuum of lifestyle and care options rooted in Jewish traditions and values. Whether you are in need of Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing or Rehabilitation Services, Lions Gate has you covered.
Our mission at Lions Gate is to enrich the lives of those we serve through quality and compassionate care consistent with our heritage and values. We strive to provide programs and services that inspire well-being, as well as social, cultural and spiritual independence.
As a full-service community rich in wellness programs, meaningful experiences and educational opportunities from Lions Gate University, Lions Gate allows residents to connect with those who share their interests and cherished traditions. Our goal is to provide residents with an active, worry-free lifestyle filled with ways to connect with others, pursue their passions and be engaged in everyday life. While we focus on Jewish customs and traditions, we welcome people of all faiths to the Lions Gate family.
Through our affiliation with Jewish Senior Housing and Healthcare Service, we also offer three senior living communities for those with limited incomes.