Last Updated: February 26, 2019
Caregiving for parents and senior loved ones has many rewards, but it can also bring about severe emotional, mental and physical stress.
Learn how to lower caregiver stress using these five tips for taking better care of yourself throughout this time.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), caregivers of the elderly and chronically ill are more likely to report feeling stressed, as well as reporting stress at higher levels.
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Caregivers are also more likely to report poor health: among other negative effects, caregiver stress can compromise the immune system, aggravate existing chronic health conditions, as well as tax our mental and physical well-being.
Fortunately, whether it’s finding time for yourself with respite care or simply asking for help, there are a number of creative ways to lower your stress — and the ultimate result will be more effective caregiving, as well as better quality of life for yourself.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the key to preventing stress is awareness: “You need to be sensitive to the early warning signs and symptoms that suggest a stress overload is starting to push you over the hump.” With 22% of Americans reporting extreme stress, according to an APA report, learning to recognize the signs we’re under pressure is something we should all be doing.
One of the biggest reasons to minimize stress levels is the fact that prolonged stress can have negative health effects on our bodies and minds, including:
The immune system also gets impaired when we’re under stress, leaving us susceptible to colds and other viruses, as well as exacerbating autoimmune and cardiovascular issues.
You’ll find no shortage of recommendations for lowering stress, but we’ve zeroed in on five tips that are particularly pertinent for caregivers:
Physical activity is good for the body and the mind. If you’re not the type of person who can sit still to meditate for even a few minutes, exercise can have some of the same beneficial protective effects on our brain’s stress response. Plus, exercise releases natural endorphins in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce pain.
Meditation, even a short session, can decrease agitation and anxiety and increase our ability to step back from a stressful situation. It can help us be more creative about problem-solving, and, according to a Fast Companyarticle, “Meditation has also been linked to increasing compassion, decreasing stress, improving memory skills and even increasing the amount of gray matter in the brain.”
Ever heard the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? It’s absolutely true, especially for caregivers, who do not go to the doctor because they often put the needs of their care recipients and families above their own. Prevent stress by getting enough sleep, maintaining a proper diet and taking time out for yourself.
The Mayo Clinic states that “taking a break is one of the best things you can do for yourself as well as the person you’re caring for.” If you’re experiencing caregiver stress, consider asking a nearby community whether they have respite care available, such as adult day care or short-term nursing stays. A Place for Mom is a great place to start searching.
This one may seem self-evident, but it’s particularly necessary for caregivers to evaluate how they’re feeling and if they need to reach out to family and friends to stay positive and sane. Social support can be just as important as setting aside “me time,” whether it’s the professional help of a counselor, the sympathetic ear of a good friend or just time out of the house having fun.
Have you experienced caregiver stress? How did you lower stress while caring for a parent or senior loved one? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.