When someone close to us begins to face the realities of an advancing illness, many of us will begin to define ourselves as caregivers. Hospice can allow us to do just that, for one of the many options available with hospice care is the option of a family member serving as a caregiver.
For many, becoming a caregiver offers connection, pride and the opportunity to express how deeply we care about our loved one. In a very real sense it is a heroic role and a truly demanding role. Though hospice family caregivers have great support and help from the Hospice of Montgomery team, it is still a role that will take time and present challenges. Learning how to deal with the stresses that are a natural part of facing a loved one’s illness as well those that come from stepping into the caregiving role, will help you provide the best possible care.
With the end goal of ensuring the best possible care for your loved one, support from others will be important. Consider seeking help from other family members, church families, friends and even neighbors who may be willing to help. Though asking for help may be difficult, the benefits for you and your loved one will outweigh your hesitations. You are likely to find that many are glad to help, and may be waiting for you to need them.
It is important as a caregiver to remember to make time for yourself and to take care of your own needs. Remember, the care that you give your loved one suffers if you are not in the best possible place, both physically and mentally. It is vital that you remain healthy and able to provide your loved one with the best care you can and that begins with taking care of yourself.
Tips to relieve caregiver stress
Recognize the signs of caregiver stress: sleeping or eating problems, anxiety, headaches, depression, guilt, and muscle fatigue or tension are just a few.
- Ask for help from friends and family. Some would–be helpers hesitate to offer because they don’t know your needs.
- Stay connected. It is important to maintain relationships with others and not just the loved one in your care.
- Keep a journal. Talk or write about your feelings, whether they are good or bad. A regular record of events and emotions will help you recognize stress before it becomes a problem.
- Learn all you can about the illness. What can you expect and what new issues might arise.
- One thing at a time. Break a challenge into smaller parts.
- Take time away. It may be difficult, but try to find time for yourself. Don’t completely isolate yourself in the caregiving role. Take time for your hobbies, they will help take your mind off the situation and responsibilities even if it is just for an hour or so a day.
- Talk to others. Look for support groups. It often helps to speak to others who are in a similar situation and can share your frustrations, feelings and concerns.
- Celebrate your successes. Allow yourself to feel good about your efforts. This is not a role that demands absolute perfection, take pride in what you are doing for someone else, it really is a big deal.
- Breathe. Take a deep breath, gain perspective. You are giving the best part of yourself to help someone you love. One day you will be able to look back and know what you contributed.
- Humor. Stay in touch with your sense of humor. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.
- Get active: Studies show that exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes mood, improves sleep, and improves self-esteem.
- Take care of yourself: Get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable and tense from lack of sleep or if you’re not eating correctly, you will have less ability to deal with stressful situations. If stress repeatedly keeps you from sleeping, you should ask your doctor for help.
- It’s O.K., to cry. A good cry can be a healthy way to bring relief to your anxiety, and it might even prevent a headache or other physical consequence. Take some deep breaths, they also release tension.
The art of relaxation
The best strategy for avoiding stress is to learn how to relax. Unfortunately, many people try to relax at the same pace that they lead the rest of their lives. For a while, tune out your worries about time, productivity, and “doing right.” You will find satisfaction in just being, without striving. Find activities that give you pleasure and that are good for your mental and physical well-being. Forget about always winning. Focus on relaxation, enjoyment, and health. Be good to yourself.
Ways to handle stress
- Look for the causes: Who or what is at the bottom of the stress? Dealing directly with the person or issue may be the best approach.
- Examine your relationships: What can you do to put more warmth, more communication, and more mutual support into them?
- Evaluate: Not every argument is worth trying to win. Defend values that are important. But learn to ignore lesser issues.
- Be positive: If you fail, don’t concentrate on failure. Deliberately recall past successes. It helps self-esteem.
- Seek advice: Confiding in a friend or in your Hospice of Montgomery nurse can uncoil the tightly wound spring of tension. Seek professional assistance and advice and input from your hospice team when needed. You’re worth it.
- Do something for others: Reaching out can occasionally take the focus off of yourself and reduce the stress caused by brooding.
- Do one thing at a time: The seconds pass in single file. Yet how quickly they become minutes and hours. You’ll get more done with less “hassle” when you concentrate on each job as it comes.
- Learn to pace yourself: You can’t operate in high gear all the time. And you can’t just “sit there” all the time, either. Take a break. Go for a walk. Look out the window. Do something else.