Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stress of family caregiving adds challenge and opportunity

If you’re a family caregiver you won’t be surprised about the statistics related to stress and the caregiver.

It won’t shock you that the morbidity rate (illness) and the mortality rate (death) are both higher for caregivers than for non-caregivers.

You’ll probably nod at the most recent findings that caregivers experience higher stress in their marriages or personal relationships, too.

It’s a very stressful job, being a family caregiver.

Stress is our bodies’ way of handling the unknown or the feared. In nature it is a useful response to fright or a threat: the heart races, the adrenalin pumps and senses sharpen. The body is ready for fighting or fleeing – quickly. I’m sure you’ve noticed how quick it can happen if you see something in the middle of the road, for example, when you’re driving 60 miles an hour. In an instant you can feel the adrenalin surge through your entire body.

The problem with stress is that emotional situations cause our bodies to react in much the same way. Over time, the stress wears at us physically and emotionally. We may feel exhausted all the time. We may be irritable and jumpy.

In nature, stress is a powerful positive force. I believe that it can become a powerful, positive force for caregivers, too, if we can learn to recognize the early signs of stress – and then take action.

Perhaps your highest level of stress comes from not knowing what you’re going to find each time you walk into your parent’s home. Listening to your body, perhaps you realize that this is the moment when the adrenalin starts flooding, and you feel anxious and out-of-control. After all, you have no control over what you’re going to find, but you know whatever it is you’ll have to manage.

What could you do to reduce this stress point? Maybe you could call first on your way over, so you get some sense of what to expect. Maybe you could get another person – paid caregiver, neighbor, or family member – to drop by first and set the stage for your arrival to be less stressful.

Changing your caregiving relationship to one with less stress very likely will include some of these keys:

1) Get help. If you have felt the entire caregiving burden was on your shoulders, you need to stop – listen to your body – and take action. Set aside your personal sense of responsibility or your feelings that you should do it all, and get help. Ask your family, your church, your local senior center – get help. Knowing that it is NOT all on your shoulders may be the single most important thing you can do to reduce your personal stress.

2) Get support. Support may come from a different place than actual help with caregiving tasks. Support may come from your best friend, over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. It may come from a formal or informal support group of other people, going through some of the same things you’re struggling with. It may come via an internet support group or email support team. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from – support is vital to reducing your stress and giving you the strength to continue as a caregiver.

3) Take time out. Your body’s stress is telling you to take a break. It’s telling you to step back and breathe deeply. You won’t be able to do this on your own. Most likely, you’ll need help. Respite – short term help – is available in many assisted living communities. Many in-home care agencies will provide short term help, too. Look for it wherever you can find it, and take a break.

Listen to your body. Learn to feel, hear and notice when your own stress level increases. Use this new awareness as an opportunity to take action to reduce your own caregiver stress. It’s a vital step to surviving – and thriving – as a caregiver.

1 comment:

SYNERGY HomeCare - East Valley said...

Sharon -

What a wealth of information you have given and how true all of it is. Thanks for the great post! It is very important that the family caregivers pay attention to their health.

SYNERGY HomeCare - East Valley