Survival Tips for the Stressed-Out Caregiver
If you are a caregiver, you are stressed. There is no probably about it. Your job is to be responsible for another human being, and that kind of job doesn’t stop when you clock out. If you are a family caregiver, you never really get to clock out.
Research has linked stress to heart attacks, strokes, and weakened immune systems. It can also manifest in other ways, like headaches, hives, or depression. So what can you, as a caregiver, do to prevent stress from devouring you or creating your own medical conditions? Keep reading.
Things caregivers can do to relieve stress
Many people feel the effects of stress daily but are in denial or think that stress is “what comes with the job” and must simply be accepted. While this may be true, we can all learn to handle our stress better.
There are several simple things you can do — on or off the job — to keep stress from getting the best of you, including:
- focused breathing,
- meditation or prayer,
- drinking plenty of water, and
- getting a moment or two of sunshine.
Something else you can do to facilitate healthy, de-stressing behaviors is join a gym. In the past, odd-hour jobs like caregiving made going to the gym hard. Today, though, 24-hour gyms are everywhere. Exercise is a great way to burn stress so your body works more efficiently and functions better. You’ll probably end up sleeping better and eating better, too, which also help with stress.
The best tip for beating stress is to take time off. Taking time off doesn’t mean you have to go on a vacation, although that would be ideal. It just means you aren’t working for a set amount of days. You can sleep, read, watch tv, do whatever leisure activities you need to do to recharge. If you don’t recharge yourself, just like batteries, you'll burn out.
You might think that as a caregiver, you don’t have the luxury of time off. You couldn’t be more wrong. As a caregiver, you can’t afford to be exhausted, mentally off, disinterested or bored. If you’re overwhelmed with stress, you can’t help anybody.
Finding time for yourself: planning ahead & outsourcing
If you’re one of those people that has trouble freeing up time to take care of yourself, you probably need to invest some energy into planning ahead. If you set aside time in your schedule to do certain activities, you will always have time for them, no matter what your schedule is like.
By planning, you make yourself important. When we realize our own time is as important as other peoples’ time, we take better care of it. We take better care of ourselves. And when we take better care of ourselves, we take better care of everyone else.
One easy thing to plan for are your day-to-day errands. If you, like many medical professionals in this country, have non-traditional work hours, you know you have to plan ahead and schedule in order to get things done in the daytime. After all, this is when most stores, banks, salons, mechanics, you name it, are open. If you don’t have enough daylight hours to spare for errands, when you should be sleeping or resting, it’s time to look into outsourcing.
Personal assistants aren’t just for the rich and famous. Today, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to find help with errands and chores (see TaskRabbit or Care.com). Often, you find if you just had one more hour a day, seven days a week, you could get everything done. So, why not pay someone an hourly rate to buy your groceries, do your laundry, or clean your house? It might seem extravagant, but when stress is putting your health at risk, it’s worth asking “which is more expensive?”
If you don’t have the resources to hire outside help, you might start limiting your extra-curricular responsibilities. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and get in the habit of saying “no” every now and then. Saying “no” can be good medicine.
Regardless of how you do it, you must: Shed some of the superfluous time commitments and tasks that add to your stress levels, then redirect that time toward things that relax you. As a caregiver, you have an important job to do. Managing your stress is part of that job, because ...
Your stress is hazardous to your patient
Caregivers like you have a lot of responsibilities. You have to measure and document medications. You have to ensure a person’s turning schedule is maintained. You have to check your patient’s skin daily. The list goes on an on.
When you’re stressed out, many of the tasks that make up your job can start to feel either a) overbearing and oppressive or b) mundane and routine. When the former happens, your natural tendency is to get flustered and careless. When the latter happens, it’s common to start daydreaming and then “come back,” only to find you can’t remember what you have or haven’t done or what you were or weren’t going to do. Both of these situations are dangerous and put your patient at risk.
That’s why you have to take responsibility for your stress.
Whether you take advantage of the tips mentioned above or develop your own techniques for stress management, it’s imperative that you take action to keep yourself balanced.
Your job and your patient’s health depend on it. Your happiness and your own health depend on it.
SuLauren Wilson is the founder of Finnegan Medical Supply, an online medical supply store based in Little Rock, Ark. She blogs regularly on issues affecting the company’s patients. Although, she has many years of experience in the healthcare industry, she is not a licensed medical professional, and the content of her posts should not be considered medical advice.