If you care for elderly family members, you probably understand how the experience can be a roller coaster ride of emotion at times. While you love providing the extra support that your relatives need, taking care of others in addition to yourself can be stressful and overwhelming if you aren't taking the proper measures to relieve any anxiety or tension you're feeling. Use these tips to help you ensure you're prioritizing your own health while maintaining a healthy and caring relationship with the elderly loved ones you support.
1. Know when unhealthy stress is starting to kick in
If you're juggling family responsibilities, working hard at your career and caring for older family members, chances are, you're going to feel a little stressed out from time to time. The key to handling caregiver stress is knowing when it has begun to become unhealthy. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's not uncommon for caregivers to go a long time before realizing that their well-being is declining, as they assume high amounts of stress are normal.
Symptoms of caregiver stress include feeling constantly worried, sleeping too much or too little, no longer finding old hobbies interesting, gaining or losing weight, persistent headaches and becoming very easily irritated. Experiencing these effects, or a combination of a few, can harm your health if you don't seek support.
2. Remember that acceptance is key
A lot of the stress that comes from caregiving is a result of anger or sadness over the elderly family members' condition. Helpguide.org pointed out that you shouldn't waste your time or energy worrying or stressing over situations you can't change. It's better to focus on things you have control over and to look on the bright side, such as the fact that caring for your loved ones has brought you closer together. It's also easier to accept difficult circumstances when you have other people and activities to turn to that allow you to focus on yourself.
3. Don't ignore your feelings
If you're feeling frustrated and tired, you're going to want to take a break from your role as caregiver. This is nothing to feel guilty about. Letting these unhealthy feelings and emotions accumulate without talking to someone or giving yourself a rest can end up taking a major toll on your health. AARP suggested appointing a friend or family member to talk to when you notice that your stress or negative emotions are starting to get out of control. If you think it will help, it may be best to make an appointment with a professional counselor who can provide relaxation techniques to assist you in moments of high stress.
4. Take your physical health into account
Even if you're making a conscious effort to maintain your mental well-being by taking breaks and putting time aside for your favorite hobbies, neglecting your physical health can quickly become an issue if you aren't careful. It can be tempting to rely on a lot of caffeine to help you through days when you feel exhausted and fast food when you're crunched for time. However, this is going to start affecting your health.
"Greasy foods are also going to make you feel less energized."
Fill your diet with fruits, whole grains, lean protein, vegetables and healthy fats like nuts, which will keep you feeling energized throughout the day instead of for a couple of hours like a pick-me-up from caffeine. Greasy foods, on the other hand, are going to make you feel less energized and motivated. If you find that you don't have time to prepare food every day, make one or two large meals on Sunday and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers for the rest of the week.
Regular physical activity is also key, as it triggers the release of endorphins that make staying positive easier. Helpguide.org advised trying to get at least 30 minute of exercise each day, whether this means taking the dog for a brisk walk or biking to your destination.
5. Reach out for help
In addition to releasing your emotions by talking with friends and family during stressful times, it's also important to reach out for help in other ways. For example, ask a sibling or close friend to watch your elderly loved one for a couple of hours or so while you meet up with friends. You may be surprised at how ready and willing people are to lend a helping hand when they can. Calling on community services can also be helpful, whether this means a transportation service, a home repair agency or geriatric care manager who can coordinate all aspects of your loved one's care. Accept that you simply can't do everything on your own. The extra help will allow you to put more time and energy into being the best caregiver you can be to your family member.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living