Stress is simply a part of life. Think about each and every stressor that affects our lives almost daily. Here are just a few to think about: traffic, annoying telemarketing calls (what telemarketing calls aren't annoying?), junk mail, the news, job demands, airline delays (let's just airports in general), and the list goes on. Life is complicated, stressful and caregiving is even more so on just about every level. So instead of talking about eliminating stressors, let's talk about how caregivers can put coping skills into practice so that falling into the traps of anxiety, depression and more is eliminated or decreased as much as possible.
The reason I call it coping skills is because it's just that. We have to learn skills and approach it as such. Learning new ways of dealing with, reacting to and accepting things all is wrapped up in how we learn to cope with situations that are for the most part out of our control. When we learn to cope well, we are healthier! That's right - stress causes all kinds of negatives, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, overeating, alcohol and drug use, weight gain or loss, and overall it makes you not a nice person to be around.
How we seek and apply solutions to stressful situations or problems that emerge is all about applying coping skills - that is healthy coping skills. Some coping skills that are not healthy and can perpetuate even greater stress include
Believe it or not, we can practice coping skills with our conscious minds. In other words, we can learn new mechanisms for dealing with what comes our way. And we can choose how we will react to the stressors in life.
As a champion for you caregivers, I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that I'm giving you advice that I did not always heed myself. Probably because in the midst of the chaos and stress I was so caught up in it, I chose not to stop long enough and listen to what my body was telling me or what others had to say. Coping skills have been around for ages, but 20 plus years ago there wasn't quite as much talk about the health risks of caregivers. There just weren't as many of us around. Now - well - caregivers of aging parents, spouses and other loved ones are EVERYWHERE.
So let me give you some sound advice from the years I have had in helping others walk the caregiving journey.
- First, learn as much you can about the person you are caring for! Learn about their illness (thank goodness for google), accompany them to doctor visits and have good questions, bring a notebook and good heavens, keep everything together in a 3-ring binder so you can stay organized. Realize that as a primary or secondary caregiver, healthcare advocacy and management is a big part of your job, so learn to be curious, ask questions and above all, have your loved one's best interest at heart.
- Start now on a daily practice of meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise for stress reduction (whatever that might be for you), and learn breathing techniques for relaxation. I want to stress proper breathing since you can practice this anywhere and throughout the day. Proper breathing enhances relaxation, reduces stress and has a lengthy list of long-term health benefits, supporting our nervous system, supports physical, mental and emotional health and well being. See the Foundations of Yogic Breathing workshop
for learning new coping skills simply through deep breathing.
Don't be a caregiver martyr. I apologize for being so blunt, but as a self-confessed martyr myself, I feel the need to share how destructive this can be to yourself and those around you. The Caregiver Martyr Syndrome sounds like this: "I'm the ONLY one Mom trusts to take care of her so please don't even think about stepping in. I'm fine and can handle it". Sorry to say, but no one can be another's 'one and only', especially for someone who needs 24/7 care. Caregiver Marty syndrome is real and will be the quickest spiral downward to anger, resentment, depression, and goodness knows what else.
Although family dynamics can get very sticky, especially when caring for older adults with chronic illness such as dementia, try your very best to keep the lines of communication open. We have so many ways to keep families in the know without making individual phone calls every time something comes up, use today's technology (group texts, emails or even private FB groups) to keep others informed.
Learn to ask for help - graciously. First, you must know what kind of help you would like, and then you need to practice asking for that help in a friendly and kind manner. Accept that you cannot do it all, and allow others the blessings of helping, which by the way, is very healthy for both the giver and receiver!
By all means, get organized with legal and financial matters that must be tended to. Believe it or not, when you take care of these things it will lessen your emotional burdens. Check it off the list and you can move on to meeting other needs of your loved ones.
- Practice living in the moment and cherish the time you have with your loved one. Believe it or not, we have the choice as to how we want to spend this time with our loved one. I would not have traded my time as a caregiver for my parents for anything. Although the journey was very difficult, it was filled with so many blessings, life lessons, and sweet memories that are the real gems of what we get out of this life.Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute® and a passionate advocate for older adults and those who serve them. She is a champion for caregivers around the world, and the creator of internationally recognized Dementia Live® sensitivity and awareness training experience.