Being a caregiver or care partner is one of the most difficult jobs there is. It is a job that provides a plethora of physical and mental challenges that require time management and creative problem-solving skills. Caregivers also develop anticipatory knowledge of the behavioral and psychological needs and tendencies of the dependent as a result of the constant need to be attentive and planning day-to-day activities. However, this constant need to be available is a source of chronic stress that can eventually lead to a wide variety of ill health effects.
There is an abundance of research correlating the negative health effects of chronic stress. Chronic stress causes a consistent release of stress hormones (those flight or fight chemicals) that exposes your bodily systems to higher levels of cortisol. Extended high levels of cortisol increase an individual’s risk for anxiety disorders, heart disease, headaches, sleep, digestive problems, weight gain and other disorders. Research also demonstrates that an individual’s self-perception of themselves as caregivers and their situations is the primary source of negative self-talk. Being your own worst critic is a narrow-minded view of a complex situation that is most often inaccurate. In addition to having the same root cause, many of the ill effects of chronic stress can be reduced by changing one’s mindset and perspective of stress-inducing situations.
How one answers the question, Is your glass half-empty or half-full? may affect your future health. The half-empty answer reflects a negative mindset. It is a pessimistic way of thinking that can be a barrier to taking care of yourself and doing the best job for your loved one. In contrast, the half-full answer exemplifies a positive attitude. It is tendency to think in a way that results in positive outcomes. The benefits of positive thinking include stress reduction and an improved quality of life. There are many strategies for developing and maintaining a positive mindset amid the chaos of caregiving.
Below are a few tips to help all caregivers create a healthier, more positive, and well balanced life.
(1) Remember to breath. In with the good, and out with the bad, as I tell my kids. Breathing is often one of the first things caregivers forget to do. As simple as it is, people tend to hold their breath when they are psychologically stressed.
(2) Have confidence in your role as a caregiver. Remind yourself: “It’s a tough job, but I can do it.”
(3) Accept your feelings.It is normal to feel angry, resentful and sadness as a caregiver. All those feelings are valid. Seek professional help if these emotions dominate your thoughts.
(4) Recognize and turn off the negative dialogue. It can be very empowering to rephrase negative thoughts and subconscious statements, such as “this a bad idea,” with “this was a funny idea” . Imagine yourself as a comedian when the going gets tough.
(5) Recognize your limitations and the impact of the disease on your loved one. Understanding the effects of a disease can reduce misperceptions of difficult behavior. There are many homecare and companion care services in the valley whose business it is to support caregivers and provide respite. They are a great resource for helpful caregiving tips and tricks also.
(6) Nourish your body. Supply your body with healthy food, daily exercise, adequate rest and medical attention as needed. Sleep deprivation directly effects one’s mood. Chronic sleep deprivation increases one’s cravings for sugar, leading to weight gain. Drinking adequate amounts of water throughout the day is a simple activity that helps you maintain your mental clarity and wards of dehydration-induced hunger
(7) Build bonds with the positive people in your life. Building your “team” of positive people can provide different perspectives. Positivity can be contagious. These can be family members, friends, neighbors, other caregivers and healthcare providers.
(8) Connect with other caregivers. They can be a source of emotional support as well as a resource to for caregiving issues. Here in the Treasure Valley there are several caregiver support groups that meet throughout the month. More information about this groups can be found at the local senior centers and Alzheimer’s chapter
(9) Don’t allow yourself to become isolated. Stay in touch with friends and neighbors. Writing letter, talking over the phone, via email and or social media nourishes your social being. It is important to nurture your personal life and maintain your identity,
(10) Insist on getting respite care. It’s crucial to restore your batteries from time to time. It provides an opportunity to let down your guard, relax and will make you a better caregiver to your loved one.
(11) Focus on today and keep it simple. Tomorrow will come soon enough. Planning too far ahead can cause un-needed stress for some. Along these lines, sometimes it is also necessary to focus only on the tasks that are necessary (meals, hygiene and laundry) and to not sweat the small stuff.
(12) Learn the signs and symptoms of depression and seek professional help if you feel you are personally experiencing. There are many treatment options available. Just having a professional listen to your concerns can provide validation as well as resolution.
(3) Laugh. Find pleasure and humor in daily activities. The act of laughing itself reduces stress hormones, increases the release of endorphins (those feel-good chemicals) and enhances disease fighting compounds. A funny daily calendar (such as Maxine or Aunty Acids) can be a fun way to start each day.
Written by: Teresa Haldorson
Teresa Haldorson, is a Registered Nurse whose passion has always been working with older adults. Her 25 years of experience includes working with seniors in a variety of settings, including cardiac care, critical care, long-term care and academia. Teresa earned her Master’s degree in geriatric nursing education from the University of Washington. She is the owner of Optimal Aging, where she works directly with families helping them navigate the challenges of aging.