Caring for a family member who has a disability or a chronic illness can be rewarding. But it’s also demanding. One of the keys to being a successful caregiver is to manage stress by seeking support and taking care of yourself.
Think about the kinds of caregiving tasks or situations that trigger stress for you. Then you can focus on one or two things you can do that will help the most to reduce stress. Here are some ideas:
Know Your Limits
You can’t provide good care if you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Make a list of all the tasks you need to do in a week, including dressing and bathing a loved one, rides, cooking, and household chores. Brainstorm which ones someone else might be able to do. Learn when to say no, and set boundaries so you can take care of your family — and yourself.
Ask for Help
Even a few hours “off duty” can help you recharge. Make a list of family, friends, or neighbors to call when you need a break. Insurance may pay for a home health aide. Adult day care centers can give you a breather while your loved one enjoys some social activity. Your local Area Agency on Aging can tell you where to find help. Hospice programs provide support for terminally ill people and their families.
Make It a Team Effort
Hold regular “family meetings” to discuss the latest medical news, daily caregiving needs, financial concerns, and your need for support. These meetings should include everyone who might be involved in caring for your loved one, including paid caregivers. Connect distant family members through a speaker phone or online video chat. Follow up with a written agreement and a calendar of tasks.
Take Time for You
It’s easy to get burned out when caring for a loved one, whether it’s a special-needs child, a spouse with a chronic illness, or a frail older person. Taking time for yourself everyday — even just a few minutes — is one way to help you recharge. Try yoga before breakfast, slip out for a 20-minute walk, go to the movies, or pursue any hobby you love. Reducing your stress will make you a better caregiver.
Get Enough Sleep
Most caregivers who say their own health has gotten worse blame loss of sleep. Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, may help you at bedtime. If your loved one sleeps during the day but is awake much of the night, try to take naps. You may need to hire an aide or ask a friend or relative to stay with your loved one overnight so you can get a good night’s sleep.
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