Find More Hope When You Cope

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Find More Hope When You Cope

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Has your caregiving reached the point of becoming the straw that broke the camel’s back? Family caregivers face many challenges including:

  • Assuming new and unexpected responsibilities.
  • Watching a loved one decline (physically and/or mentally).
  • Balancing a career with caregiving, and overlooking their own health.
  • Making time for their own families.
  • Communicating with siblings.
  • Dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Dealing with everything can become challenging and stressful. Coping throughout the caregiving process is crucial strategy for stress reduction. 

Remembering my own co-caregiving years for my parents, I recall how many advised me to look after myself and find coping mechanisms. Like many other family caregivers, however, I disregarded this advice and adamantly plowed on aheadfalsely believing that looking after my parents was entirely my obligation and thinking that I could manage well enough independently. 

I couldn’t. This was not due to a lack of willingness on my part. Caregiving began to wear me down. Specifically, I began to lose sleep, experienced some personal health issues, and worried excessively. 

Other symptoms family caregivers may also experience are increased irritability and reduced energy. Recognizing that things were changing for me (and for the worse), I decided to try incorporating some coping strategies. 

Initially, I chose to walk and write more oftenboth activities were previously enjoyable but had been dropped when caregiving began. I falsely believed that I did not have the time for either. How a family caregiver copes with his/her own issues can vary greatly, but here are a few helpful ideas: 

Practice acceptance

We are all human and, as such, we all have our limitations of what we can do. Family caregivers will assume many responsibilities (and even accept even more work and/or try to multitask) but will need to acknowledge that they cannot, realistically, do everything and they will have their own natural weaknesses when faced with challenging situations. 

Practicing acceptance also extends to accepting any negative feelings that may crop up (e.g. anger, depression, frustration, jealously, etc.). I remember feeling very angry and helpless as Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease worsened as I could do nothing to stop it. These feelings are natural, but if you don’t find healthy ways to cope with them, your stress level may dramatically increase. 

Schedule a break

Caregivers are busy people, admittedly, and they may think that taking breaks is impossible. But caregiving breaks don’t have to be lengthy—even shorter escapes can be beneficial. Read a chapter of a book, watch a movie on television (don’t forget the popcorn!), or call a good friend to talk. By not always providing care, caregivers can, in fact, provide far better care for a loved one. 

Turn off your cell phone

It’s true that our mobile phones have made us more accessibleperhaps TOO accessible. Just because you have a phone in your coat pocket doesn’t mean that you can always answer it immediately. If others are calling you nonstop and you just want a few minutes for yourself, turn off your phone. Callers can always leave you a voicemail message. 

Focus on the good

With stories of COVID-19, long-term care home turmoil, and caregiving woes surrounding us, it can be very difficult to look on the bright side. During my own co-caregiving years, I found that emphasizing on the positives (even if this was only a day-by-day basis), was helpful with coping. 

Even small accomplishments can be considered “good”did Mom zip up her own coat? Did Dad stand up independently from his chair without assistance? If you’re still having problems with focusing on the good with caregiving, try starting with making a personal declaration (something like, “I have the right to feel my own feelings and to look after myself,” “I know my own strengths and weaknesses and will listen to what my body is telling me,” or “My own personal care is imperative to my taking care of Mom/Dad.”)

Relax

Demands on a family caregiver can pile up to the point of becoming extreme. Your mind and body will tell you when you’re trying to do too much. It’s up to you to listenand respond tothose messages. 

Before this happens, step back and unwind. Relaxing activities and/or techniques can vary greatlytry booking a massage, practicing yoga, or feeding the birds at a nearby park. Relaxation techniques don’t always have to be slower-paced. I’ve found that going for a run can clear my head. 

Family caregivers may ignore rising levels of stress and/or mistakenly believe they are in complete control of the situation. Don’t let caregiving become the straw that broke the camel’s back; healthy coping mechanisms are critical to reducing your stress.

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