April is Stress Awareness Month, and it arrives with impeccable timing. For many, the “year of COVID” has been the most stressful in living memory.
Few have been more affected than professional (and family) caregivers for older adults. Working remotely — a godsend for millions — just isn’t an option if your job involves changing dressings, prepping meals or helping with activities of daily living.
If you’re the primary caregiver of an aging family member, you’ve probably been feeling added stress during the past year: delayed and rescheduled health care appointments, mandatory quarantine and stay-at-home orders, lack of socialization with other family and friends. Many family caregivers also juggle their 9 to 5 responsibilities and childcare with the added responsibility of caring for their aging parents.
As the pandemic abates, so should some of the stressors associated with it. But caregiver stress management should remain a top priority for your own well-being. If you’re overtired and overworked, it might be time to look to a third party for trusted, timely help — and that’s where Care Advantage can step in.
What is caregiver stress?
Being physically and emotionally on-call almost all of the time takes a toll. When our children are young, we expect this (and we know that that difficult season will pass!)
We also experience this kind of caregiving stress when we’re caring for an aging family member. Of course, not all stress is bad. For example, if someone has a medical emergency, that will trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response, giving you an energy and alertness boost when you need it most.
But what if your heart starts to race and your muscles twitch at a time of apparent calm, such as when you’re watching TV or reading? Or, what if you become lethargic and uninterested in your work, and the job that previously brought you joy becomes a grind? These are classic symptoms of caregiver stress, along with headaches, insomnia, irritability, chronic indigestion and many other ailments, both physical and mental. You know your mind and body better than anyone. Listen to them. If they’re telling you something is wrong, it’s time to get help.
Preventing, managing and relieving caregiver stress
Following are some general tips for combating caregiver stress, but they won’t work for everyone. Before you make any major lifestyle changes, consult your doctor.
Find a stress buddy
Caregiver stress is common enough that you probably have a colleague or friend who’s suffering from it. If they’re someone you trust, open up to them about how you’re feeling and ask them to share their own strategies for caregiver stress relief. You can also talk to agencies like Care Advantage for ideas and potential solutions.
Countless chronic conditions, including work stress, are linked to poor or inadequate sleep. Try to eliminate habits that can cause insomnia, such as coffee after lunch and screen time just before bed. Exercise helps promote healthy sleep, but do it in the morning, since an evening jog can leave you more stimulated than tired.
Look after your body
We often stress the importance of exercise to our loved ones. But do we practice what we preach? Any kind of exercise that elevates your heart rate will work to reduce your stress levels, even if it’s little more than a brisk walk. As for nutrition, ignore the “miracle diets” and simply focus on eating more unprocessed foods, such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and less junk (with the caveat that good mental health goes hand in hand with the occasional donut).
Seek more help if you need it
Left unchecked, and sometimes despite our best intentions, caregiver stress can lead to serious conditions such as burnout and depression. If you feel like things are spiraling out of control, talk to a doctor or counselor and consider bringing in professional help for caregiving.
And remember, like COVID, stressful times are here just for the moment and they will pass.