Caregiving is a selfless gift that can be incredibly rewarding. However, millions of Americans become caregivers every year without realizing exactly what the undertaking entails. That means that, even when the role is taken on with good intentions, it can very quickly become stressful, frustrating and difficult, says Reshma Nair, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover, a Memory Care Assisted Living community in Andover, MA.
“While being a caregiver is a beautiful thing and can help your loved one’s independence, health and comfort, it’s also a lot of work for you that can add a lot of stress and anxiety,” Reshma explains. “That’s why it’s so important for all caregivers to recognize what they can do to care for themselves while they’re also caring for their loved ones.”
If you go too long without finding healthy coping techniques, it can have very real consequences on your health, in your relationships and your overall mental well-being, resulting in caregiver burnout.
“Caregiver burnout is a state of total exhaustion,” says Reshma. “It occurs when you stop paying attention to what you need and neglect caring for yourself. We liken it to putting on your oxygen mask in a plane – you have to put yours on first before you can help others with theirs.”
Fortunately, Reshma says, there are many excellent tips and techniques you can use to reduce stress and give yourself the support you need to be a happy, healthy caregiver. “When you take the time to care for yourself, you and your loved one will thank you,” she says.
Coping Tips for Caregivers
1. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Being a caregiver doesn’t mean that you have to put aside the enjoyable things in life. While there are many things you can’t change about being a caregiver, there are also countless opportunities to find joy and fulfillment each day. Perhaps that’s having a daily phone call with your sister, or sitting outside in your garden for ten minutes, or laughing over a funny cat video. Maybe it’s those moments where you and your loved one have an opportunity to share memories or make a new one. Take time each day to recognize the good in your life and cherish those meaningful moments with your loved one.
2. Give yourself compassion and grace.
We are our own worst critic and enemy. Many caregivers will feel guilty, frustrated, or angry on a regular basis, and it’s natural to tell ourselves that we aren’t doing enough. That constant state of negativity will feed on itself, though, leaving you even more frustrated, angry and stressed out. Instead, give yourself permission to feel your feelings and recognize that you’re doing the very best you can. Make sure you’re giving yourself credit for all the good you do. There’s no such thing as a perfect caregiver – just the very best one you can be.
3. Ask for help.
The worst thing you can do as a caregiver is to take on all the responsibilities by yourself. This is a sure-fire recipe for burnout, fatigue, stress and breakdowns. Take a hard look at your workload and abilities and be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Remember, you have a life outside of caregiving, and you can’t simply push it aside. Instead, look for resources like family members, friends and professional caregivers to help shoulder the load so you can provide the best possible quality of life for your loved one (and yourself).
4. Practice self-care.
Every day, it’s important to take a step back from caregiving and do something that’s inspiring and uplifting for yourself. Whether it’s taking a walk in your favorite park, reading a book or doing a 30-minute yoga class, you need to carve out time in your day to recharge your personal batteries so you can be the best caregiver possible. Studies have shown that taking the time to remove yourself from the immediate situation and practice meditation or mindfulness can lower stress levels almost instantly. Talk about cheap therapy!
When we’re busy and stressed out, it’s not uncommon to skip meals, eat poorly or have uneven eating schedules. This can result in poor nutrition – as well as the ever-unwanted “hangry” feeling. Routine is very important to both you and your loved one, so be sure to take the time to eat three regularly scheduled meals a day. (Of course, be sure that you’re eating as healthy as possible, avoiding overly fatty, sugary or salty foods.) You’ll feel better, your mind will be calmer, and you’ll be a less “hangry” caregiver.
6. Get enough exercise.
Staying physically active has all sorts of great benefits for your mind, body and soul. It reduces stress, boosts your mood, wears you out (meaning better sleep), improves your metabolism, allows you to maintain a healthy weight and overall makes you feel better about yourself. The best form of exercise is something you enjoy doing and you can commit to every day. So whether that’s an evening yoga session or an early morning walk around the block, find something that will have you looking forward to getting your sweat on.
7. Nurture your important relationships.
Many studies have shown that the happiest people are the ones who continue to nurture quality relationships. As a caregiver, it can be easy to lose touch with the people who matter most, which can lead to isolation and loneliness. But those relationships with others can help bolster your sense of self, boost your emotional health and provide you the center you need to recalibrate and focus your efforts. Although you may have to do the heavy lifting at first, make sure you’re reaching out to the people you care about and nurturing those important relationships. Schedule regular conversations with your friends, whether it’s a phone call or an in-person coffee date. Make time for your family, children and other family members. You’ll find yourself feeling more fulfilled and happy – making you a better caregiver.
8. Connect with other caregivers.
Who understands being a caregiver better than other caregivers? Having a core group you can connect with will give you a space to vent, solicit advice and information, share your own knowledge and connect with others who get you – really get you. Other caregivers can provide you a supportive shoulder, a sympathetic ear and a fast group of friends who can help bolster you through the good times and the bad.
9. Practice positivity.
If we continually think negative thoughts or have a pessimistic outlook, we will become negative and pessimistic without even realizing it. On the other hand, if we have happy and positive thoughts, we become a more positive person – without having to work for it. This may seem awkward at first, but as with any habit, you simply have to practice it until it starts feeling natural. Start by tuning in to your internal monologue as you go about your day. When you find yourself beating yourself up internally, stop and flip the script in your head. Look for the good in the moment. Soon, you’ll find yourself looking on the bright side of life more often … which is a great way to make your entire life, and caregiving journey, seem that much sunnier.
Exceptional Care. Engaging Lifestyle.
Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover provides specialized memory care in an assisted living environment that is comfortable, positive and welcoming. Built solely to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover creates a wellness-focused, engaging lifestyle that respects individual preferences, focuses on residents’ abilities and creates meaning in daily life.
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Through every stage of memory loss, residents and their families have complete peace of mind. Our compassionate dementia care and unique programs are tailored to meet the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of each resident wherever they are on their own journey, allowing them to age in place safely, comfortably and with dignity.
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Featuring a stunning residential design, Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover is much more than a beautiful place to live; it’s a community where residents’ lives are enriched and families enjoy meaningful moments together. Our research-based design features soft colors and lighting, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life-enrichment stations that empower residents to explore their homes with confidence.
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