The act of caring for an aging parent is not one that many plan in advance. Instead, caregivers are thrust into a scary, stressful, challenging situation out of necessity and love. Since many people do not have time to prepare, there is a lot of “learning on the job” and a lot of trial and error that happens as a caregiver.
And while there are plenty of resources available to help you navigate your caregiving journey with a little more ease, the best thing you can do is learn to master stress management for caregivers.
The Family Caregiver Alliance (FAC) reports that “caregivers have higher levels of stress than non-caregivers. They also describe feeling frustrated, angry, drained, guilty or helpless as a result of providing care.” As a result, many caregivers experience signs of caregiver burnout, or cope with the stress in unhealthy ways. The FAC doesn’t make light of the situation: “caregivers are shown to have increased alcohol and other substance use. Several studies have shown that caregivers use prescription and psychotropic drugs more than non-caregivers.”
Stress management for caregivers provides more than just ways to help you stay sane; learning positive ways to combat the negative effects of stress can provide you with tools that also can be carried over to your personal relationships as well as your professional life. While making a commitment to combat stress in your life can be a lifelong practice, here are a few ways to get started:
When you are caring for an aging parent, time becomes a precious commodity and what little of it you have is usually not reserved for yourself. This leads to a lack of self-care, especially when it comes to your mental well-being. When your baseline is stress, it becomes hard to recognize the complex mix of other emotions that you may feel on a daily basis. Taking the time to be still and quiet, allows you to become more self-reflexive and better identify your emotional needs.
A meditation practice literally requires nothing other than a time commitment and a quiet space. And the benefits of meditating could have a long-term effect on your brain, according to Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Lazar and her team performed two separate studies on meditation and the brain and found that long-time meditators had more grey matter in their brains than their counterparts. In fact, brain scans showed that even though the cortex typically shrinks with age, for those with a regular meditation practice, the “prefrontal cortex [in] 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.”
Talk about a great way to reduce stress!
Exercise is not only a great way to work off some steam, it also has a multitude of health benefits that can offset negative effects of stress. Stress increases the production of cortisol, a hormone that can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and speeding up your metabolism. While a fast metabolism is usually attributed to small waistlines, scientists have found that cortisol also increases your appetite, which can also become “stress eating” and lead to weight gain.
At least 30 minutes of exercise, a day can help to counteract the hormonal effects of stress, while also combating against cardiovascular disease, keeping diabetes under control and also aid in sleeping more soundly at night. Whether you choose to go for a brisk walk before or after dinner, run on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bike, having a regular physical outlet for your stress is a valuable part of stress management for caregivers. According to Harvard Health, “Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress.”
Take A Break
Again, when you are caring for an aging parent, we know that time is in short supply and it is often hard to make time for yourself, but planning a vacation can have a big impact on your physical and emotional well-being. And that doesn’t mean that you have to plan to leave the country for a week (although if you can, we highly recommend it!). A vacation can also mean setting aside an entire weekend for yourself and enjoying a staycaytion.
Regardless of where you choose to take a vacation, the important thing is that you allow yourself to disconnect from the stressors of your daily life and reconnect to yourself. If you still need to check in with your loved one every day, set aside a specific time each day to do so. If you are worried about leaving your loved one alone while you take some time for yourself, you might want to consider a home care agency or respite care service to provide temporary care for the duration of your trip. Of course, with a Medical Guardian medical alert system you can rest assured that your loved one will always have access to help, day or night.
Make A Commitment To Stress Management
Sometimes the biggest cause of stress for caregivers is the family dynamic. Family relationships are often complicated and with so much history, it can be challenging to escape past issues. Making a commitment to mastering stress management when caring for an aging loved one can help reduce any friction that might arise.