Your daily “job” is tough. It’s intense, important and often overlooked by society. It puts pressure on your body and mind. Yet, it can be incredibly rewarding.
You’re a family caregiver. An aging loved one depends on you for their needs. It may be a parent, a spouse or another family member who is injured, ill, disabled or is experiencing age-related decline—and without you, their life would not be manageable.
And you’re not alone—there are an estimated 65.7 million family caregivers in the United States. Many of those caregivers suffer from chronic stress.
Stress is very common for most caregivers. It affects many who provide day-to-day care for loved ones and can manifest itself in the form of frustration, anger, anxiety and an array of serious health problems from high blood pressure and diabetes to depression.
If stress is taking a toll on your wellbeing, take a look at these seven strategies to tackle the problem and take control of your health.
1. Acknowledge the stress
The first step toward beating caregiver stress is acknowledging it. While it may be tempting to try to soldier on and ignore the way stress is affecting you, that’s not a sustainable strategy. The sooner you admit you’re not feeling quite right, the sooner you can address the problem.
2. Ask for help
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help with your caregiving duties—and the extra support will help ensure that your loved one gets the care they need. So set aside your pride and ask for it, either from your friends and family or from a professional organization. Your local Area Agency on Aging can direct you to organizations that offer transportation, meal delivery and home health care services for older adults. Calling on these services can alleviate some stress.
3. Take care of your own health
Yes, there is another person depending on you for care, but if you can’t care for yourself, you won’t be able to care for your loved one.
Make sure to manage your own medication. Exercise and eat healthily. Do your best to get enough sleep and stay on top of your doctor and dentist appointments. And perhaps most importantly, make time to do something for yourself at least once a week.
4. Take a break from work
Working in addition to your duties as family caregiver is especially taxing. Luckily, many employees are covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to provide care for relatives. It may not be ideal, financially. But if your bank account allows for it, taking time off of work can relieve some of the stress and pressure.
5. Make the most of respite care
Sometimes the break you need is from your role as a caregiver. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and there are many senior living facilities and home care agencies that will care for your loved one while you take care of yourself.
This service is called respite care—and it’s wise to rely on it from time to time before stress gets the best of you.
6. Make yourself a priority
Yes, caring for a loved one takes tremendous time and effort. But it shouldn’t be all-consuming. You need to stay true to yourself. Try to keep as many of your routines as possible, stay connected with your friends and make sure to manage your finances. Don’t lose your identity just because you’re taking care of a loved one.
7. Reach out to friends and family
Sometimes, beating caregiver stress means venting about it. Problems often seem larger than life—until you articulate them. You may not need the help of a counselor (although that may be helpful) if you have trusted friends and family members with whom you can share your thoughts and frustrations.