We’ve written before about Caregiver Burnout and Ten Tips to Help the Elderly and their Caregivers Enjoy the Holidays. But zeroing in on stress—what it is and how to cope with it—can be a vital part of self-care and burnout prevention, especially during the busy holiday season.
The first step to relieving stress is to recognize when you are feeling it in a negative way, and what is causing those feelings. Stress can be described in a number of different ways:
- Stress can feel like the inability to cope with a real or imagined threat to your mental and emotional well-being. You could compare the effect on your body to a “fight or flight” response.
- Stressors can be physiological or emotional events that you perceive to be stressful or out of your comfort zone. What is stressful for one person might not be stressful for another.
- Stress can have a short-term or a long-term (chronic) negative effect on your mind and body.
- Stress can occur when the mind-body-spirit connection is out of balance. Negative thoughts can cause a physical response that makes your spirit feel “down” or even makes you physically sick.
- A person who becomes a family caregiver experiences large and small changes in their life that may continue over time, and make a normally busy time, like the holidays, even more stressful.
Identifying stressors that are a result of your role as caregiver, added to the stress of the holidays, can be the first step to relieving your stress. These can be physical, social, emotional or economic. It can be helpful to make a list of what your stressors are. Some of the more common ones include:
- The loss of time for leisure activities, time for yourself, sleep, healthy eating or exercise
- Worries about finances: suddenly being in charge, and wondering how to pay for new expenses
- Responsibility for decisions, both day-to-day and those that have a major effect on the future
- A loss of time for friends and general feelings of loneliness
- Changing roles and dynamics within the family and arguments regarding care plans
- More physical work and all sorts of chores than you had to do before becoming a caregiver
- Not being sure about the kind of care your loved one needs
Once you have identified the major causes of your stress, you can focus on what might provide some relief. What works or what you can make time for will vary from person to person.
Some stress relieving or relaxation strategies can be incorporated into your daily routine. One is just to be mindful of how you are breathing. When we are under stress, our muscles tense up and breathing can become shallow and rapid. A simple way to change this stress response is to breathe deeply and slowly. It is difficult to stay tense when you are breathing in a slow, deep and relaxed pattern. The first change you can make is to breathe from your abdomen rather than your chest. Inhale slowly and deeply. Then breathe out slowly, thinking about releasing tension with each breath. Breathing this way may feel unusual at first but with practice it can start to seem normal, and you will notice yourself becoming more relaxed.
More humor and laughter can be added to your days without taking time away from any of your other responsibilities. Sometimes it can be just a matter of perspective. You can choose to see what is humorous about a situation that you might otherwise react to with frustration, irritation or anger. Laughter truly can be “the best medicine.” It is good exercise and it actually reduces specific stress hormone levels. Recall humorous holiday memories, read a funny book or watch a funny movie or TV show when spending time with your loved one. Try not to take yourself or your situation too seriously. It will help you and the one you are caring for feel more relaxed. Sometimes humor can be used to defuse what could be a stressful situation, rather than reacting with anger. Try to find humor in your day.
Massage doesn’t have to cost money or occur outside of the home. You can find techniques for hand or foot massage online that you can either use to calm or relax your loved one or even do on yourself. Massaging parts of the hands and feet can have a positive effect all through the body. Shoulder and back massage are also relatively easy to learn. Just be sure to consider the feelings of the person you are caring for. Make sure they are being helped and not made uncomfortable by this type of touching.
Asking for and accepting help can relieve the stress of some of the things you don’t have time for. If you haven’t done it already, hold a family meeting. Let everyone know what the care of your loved one requires and what is especially stressful for you to handle alone. Make suggestions as to what you think others could do to help, especially during the holidays. Even family members who don’t live close by could help by making telephone “visits” or sending an email or letter about holiday activities in their family or memories of their time with the person you are caring for. Graciously accept any help offered by neighbors or members of your religious congregation. Be open with them about your struggles. The Alzheimer’s Association website will help you look for a local support group where you can share feelings and experiences.
Free help and/or advice about resources may be available from your local Council on Aging or a Senior Citizens’ Center. Fee-for-service resources that can help to relieve stress may include Adult Day Care Centers, Meals on Wheels, and in-home Physical Therapy.
Dakota Home Care offers in home services tailored to your stress-relieving needs. They include help with your loved one’s Personal Care, such as bathing, toileting, and dressing assistance; a Home Health Aide who helps with housekeeping, shopping, preparing meals and companionship, as well as an RN who can provide Skilled Nursing Care, if needed. Respite Care that allows you to leave home for a while could be especially helpful in relieving stress during this time of year. We can provide a free in home consultation with our Client Services specialist, who will discuss services and options available to you. Call 701.663.5373 today for an appointment. Learn more about our services and how to contact us by visiting our website. Helpful advice for “Keeping Home an Option” can also be found on our blog.
Take care of yourself as well as your loved one! Don’t wait until you are exhausted or your own health begins to fail. Start now to become more aware of your personal stressors, to practice stress-relieving strategies and to ask for help! And check out our Ten Tips to Help the Elderly and Their Caregivers Enjoy the Holidays.