Smokey the Bear was a mascot created in 1947 to educate the public about the dangers of wild fires. His slogan was, “Remember…only YOU can prevent forest fires.”
I consider chronic stress as a “wildfire” that can take over a caregiver’s health. That is why I emphasize that self-care is a necessity for caregivers, not a luxury! Caregivers typically experience chronic stress day in and day out over long periods of time. The caregiver’s life increasingly fills with demands and interruptions. It is imperative that you must do things that are helpful and healthful, or you will not be able to manage for the long haul.
Here are some symptoms of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Caregiving gives you little satisfaction
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining weight or losing weight
- Irritability and resentment
- Chronic sadness
- Frequent headaches or health problems
- Having trouble relaxing or concentrating
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Views self as victim and sometimes as a martyr
What can you do to counteract these symptoms? First, protect your own health. Set personal health goals; e.g., a sleep routine, healthy meals, time out for yourself. Speak to your family doctor. Make sure you have regular physical checkups to determine if there are any physical issues that need to be addressed.
Second, keep in contact with family and friends. Let them know what is going on in your life. Caregiving can be pervasive, but you can’t let it be all-consuming. At times you may feel like you are too tired to engage socially. However, you need to interact and have a social life. Set up respite care, even if only for a few hours each week, just to give yourself a break. Check out the website, “LotsaHelpingHands.com,” to organize meals, rides to medical appointments, and visits.
Third, plan for regular exercise each day. Caregivers who exercise regularly have less depression. One hundred fifty minutes of exercise a week is the gold standard. If you cannot go outside for a walk due to bad weather, try a power walk around your house. Start for five minutes, then work up to ten and fifteen minutes. Find an exercise routine on YouTube and work along with it for twenty minutes.
Fourth, find a support group to attend. The more you understand about the progression of the disease, the better able you will be to cope. If you can’t leave the house, there are resources on the internet that connect you with groups of caregivers who understand the stresses. There are also training videos to watch on the internet. Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline (1-800-272-3900) when you are in need of information. Their highly trained and knowledgeable staff can help you with:
- Understanding memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Medications and other treatment options
- General information about aging and brain health
- Skills to provide quality care and to find the best care from professionals
- Legal, financial and living-arrangement decisions.
The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline also features:
- Confidential care consultation provided by master’s level clinicians who can help with decision-making support, crisis assistance and education on issues families face every day
- Help in a caller’s preferred language using their translation service that features more than 200 languages and dialects
- Referrals to local community programs, services, and ongoing support.
I encourage you to join my presentation, “A Trove of Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress,” on January 19, 7:00 PM (EST). This free one-hour webinar is sponsored by fellow blogger Mike Good and his website, “Together in This.” You can register at: http://tintcaregiverstress.webflow.io/.
Remember, only YOU can provide self-care and prevent caregiver burnout!
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If I had to pick one song that always calms me down, I would choose, “Gabriel’s Oboe,” by Ennio Morricone, from the movie, “The Mission.” See if it has the same effect for you: https://youtu.be/Dxxg6NenmBQ.
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Grateful living is one of the most valuable things that can be given to us. Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB, discusses the connection between happiness and gratefulness in a 2013 TED Talk. His formula for our practice of gratefulness is: stop, look, go. Listen to his fifteen minute presentation: www.gratefulness.org/resource/want-to-be-happy-be-grateful.
I wish you peace, joy, patience, and courage in your caregiving journey!