By Karen Bromberg
What is it?
Stress, as we know, is the body’s “fight or flight” response but as family caregivers how can we, even if we may want to, pick up and leave. We can’t. We know we can’t. Who’d take care of Mom (or Dad, or the spouse, or whomever)? After all, they can’t be left alone.
Any of this sound familiar?
It would be so much simpler if we could just get up leave or put up our dukes whenever we find ourselves in a stressful situation while caregiving, wouldn’t it? The getting up and leaving, that we can imagine doing. The putting up our dukes? Why, the picture is almost laughable.
We can’t do that, and we know it, and even if we could, we wouldn’t. We’re caregivers and these are our loved-one. We care for them . . . deeply . . . and want the best for them. That’s why we’ve sacrificed so much for them. (But is it really a sacrifice?)
Yeah, family caregiving can be SO complicated, can’t it? And exhausting. And stressful. It’s so stressful that it’s even a syndrome. Caregiver’s syndrome. I discovered that when I was preparing to do this blog post. I Googled “caregiver stress” and not only did I find numerous articles pertaining to the subject, but what I discovered stunned me. Did you know there’s such a thing as caregiver syndrome? You heard me right. Caregiver Syndrome. If you did, you’re one up on me.
An article on Wikipedia entitled Caregiver Stress describes what I’m sure many a family caregiver has experienced. It says, “Caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress is a condition of exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent. The term is often used by healthcare professionals, but it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”
Why is this important to know?
Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us caregivers actually notice that we’re stressed?
We go about our day, coping as best we can, trying to maintain our balance, trying to keep our cool. We have SO much on our plates that at times it feels as though it’s about to tip over, but we carry on. We’re smart. We’re capable and we know how to get the things done. That’s just who we are.
So what do we do about it?
1. Try not to feel guilty
This is so important, and I know what you’re probably thinking “it’s easy for her to say that, sitting in her living room, writing this post.” And it’s true, it is easy for me to say it and just so hard to do it, but think about it, what has guilt ever given you besides more guilt? I mean, really, it’s not like guilt is empowering. It doesn’t provide any energy. In fact, quite the opposite. It actually makes us feel more tired. It doesn’t provide a positive outlook. Instead of helping us to see possibilities, all it does is provide us with a gloomy outlook.
2. Assess your level of stress
How? There’s a variety of ways. Talk to a physician or mental health professional. Mentally go through your body and become aware of what muscles might be tight or tense. Notice if your jaw is clenched. Or if the back of your neck is stiff. Additionally, there are quizzes and scales (many scales and quizzes) easily found on the Internet. Simply do a quick Google search on the topic of “Caregiver Stress Assessment” or ”Caregiver Stress Assessment Tools.” You will see a whole list pop up. Some on this list are connected with Assisted Living or other facilities. Others aren’t. Feel free to choose one or two that speak to you. Think of it as a game. After all, as we’ve so often heard, “knowing is half the battle.”
3. Do things to dial back the stress
Okay, now you’re saying, “Sure. Right. Sounds good, but you don’t have my life. If you did, you wouldn’t be saying that.” And that’s totally true. I don’t have your life and I have no idea of the specifics of what you go through day-to-day. Even so, (and I don’t want to sound judgmental IN THE SLIGHTEST) but I have to tell you there are things you can do NOW that’ll make you feel at least a little better, no matter how busy you are. I’ll be going over more specific techniques and ideas in upcoming posts but for now allow me to give you a few suggestions.
Accept help when it’s offered. This is no small thing. As caregivers, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. I know because not only have I’ve spoken to numerous family caregivers, it’s also what I experienced. We think that we’re the only ones who can take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, but that’s not entirely true. Accept the help where appropriate and realize that help may not come from where you expect it, (your brother or sister, for example). It may come from your neighbor down the block ringing your doorbell and asking if you need anything from the grocery store.
Make yourself a priority. As family caregivers, we are so good at putting ourselves last. Exercise? Me? Who has the energy? Cook a healthy meal? Who has the time? But we must take of ourselves (Okay, I see you there rolling your eyes), and I know it’s annoying to hear it, but it’s true. We must take the few, precious moments we can to make better choices for ourselves. Why? If for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than who’d care for our loved ones if something were to happen to us?
Get support. Let’s face it, family caregiving is one of the hardest jobs we’ll likely ever be called on to do and we can’t do it alone! My suggestion, my urging, is to find a group either in your neighborhood or, if you can’t leave the house, online that’ll offer you the support you need. Find a place where you can vent, where you can share, where you can get resources and tips to make your journey that much easier. There are tons on Facebook. Find one (or two or three) that meet your needs. Feel free hang out and not say anything if you choose. You’re not required to share but also don’t be afraid to. Remember, people want to listen, they want to help, and they want to be there for you, even if it’s virtually.
Have you found the information in this blog useful? Please let us know by commenting below.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Helpyouthru.com as well as a certified caregiving consultant. You can check her out on Facebook. Feel free to join of FREE Facebook group then simply click the green “Join” button on the top of the page. If you’d like to email her, feel free at firstname.lastname@example.org