Managing Caregiving and a Stress-Filled Life
Family caregivers ask how to manage caregiving and a stress filled life. Caregivers young and old face similar challenges in caring for aging parents, grandparents, siblings, and others.
Caregivers work long hours at 9-5 jobs and then come home or go to the homes of loved ones to work another 20-40 hours a week or more. Caring for family members is an unpaid labor of love which is why family caregivers need support.
As a caregiver how can you manage a long to-do list and make time to care for yourself? While the number of male caregivers is increasing, female caregivers still outnumber males.
Few caregivers experience the “weekend break” that the majority of people enjoy. Caregivers work during the week, in the evenings, and on the weekends checking off a never-ending list of tasks to be completed for a loved one.
There are few experiences comparable to a caregiver’s 7-day work week and being available or accessible 24 hours a day to care for a frail or ill loved one. As responsibilities increase for caregivers, the stress meter goes off the charts, and feelings of anxiety, anger, overwhelm, and frustration occur. Few caregivers see any options to remove themselves from the caregiving role.
Caregiver Stress Negatively Affects Women’s Health
According to research by The George Institute for Global Health at the University of Oxford England, coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death for women and men. However, heart disease in women often goes undetected because women experience heart disease and heart attacks differently than men.
Additionally, female caregivers are more likely to put the needs of the family before their own needs, often failing to attend annual physicals. Global statistics confirm that women are more likely than men to be overweight, have high cholesterol, and be less physically active. These concerns point to the potential of greater health problems for women, especially those in caregiving roles.
Poor heart health is linked to a greater likelihood of stroke, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, breathing issues like COPD, and other health concerns. The research also confirms that heart attacks in women are often not diagnosed because they present differently from men having a heart attack, leaving women at greater risk for a lack of timely treatment.
Caregiving and a stress filled life should be a warning sign for all caregivers. Especially for women who to be more attentive to all aspects of heart health including annual check-ups, bloodwork, and physical exercise.
Other Factors Related to Caregiver Stress
For many caregivers, contributors to stress include the quality of the relationships with the care receiver and other factors. Interactions with other family members, especially siblings, can be challenging and contentious.
Add to these stressors, dealing with insurance companies, medical providers, and other service providers who may be less than helpful. At times, the frustrations for family caregivers are enough to result in daydreams of running away or thoughts about committing suicide.
I have had many caregivers tell me that they found one of my articles or a video on YouTube at two in the morning about the time they were contemplating suicide. These experiences shed light on the loneliness and isolation of being a family caregiver.
Going Beyond The Obvious
In addition to the traditional wisdom about managing stress that includes exercise, a nutritious diet, meditation, support groups, participating in therapy, taking frequent breaks, maintaining a positive attitude, learning time management techniques, deep breathing, and other spiritual pursuits, what specifically might caregivers do to manage mountains of stress?
Since caregiving is a role that is rarely expected, the individual in the role of a caregiver is rarely prepared. It’s no different than having a car that runs well for a period of time and then all of a sudden an expensive repair is needed or the car has to be replaced.
Suddenly you’re researching different types of automobiles, reliability, costs, and other factors, talking with friends about their automobiles. Then one day you make the decision to purchase a new car.
Caregiving and a stress filled life are similar. Until you are thrust into the whirlwind of having to care for a family member or friend there is no way to know what is involved. That 3 a.m. call from your parent welcomes you to the unexpected and stressful world of caregiving.
3 Tips to Reduce Caregiver Stress
Below are three tips for caregivers that have the ability to reduce stress, feelings of overwhelm, and to return balance to what might seem to be a stressful and unsettling life as the result of the addition of the role of caregiving.
1 Negotiate with siblings to contribute time, tasks, or money at the start of care needs (not later)
Many family members become immediate caregivers without giving consent or giving much thought to the responsibilities and time, task, or financial commitment. It’s often not until a caregiver is worn-out or burned-out does the caregiver think of asking for help from other family members.
By this time it’s too late! Other family members have already seen you jump into the willing role of caregiver without asking for their assistance. Negotiating at the beginning of the caregiving situation is easier.
Hold a family meeting, discuss the care, physical, emotional, and financial needs of aging parents, and determine who will provide different types of assistance. Talk to your parents about what they want for their care and come to an agreement.
Siblings can contribute financially due to distance or time constraints. Money can be used to hire in-home caregivers, pay household or other medical bills. There is a role for everyone in a caregiving situation.
2 Preserve family relationships by having parents agree to receive outside of the family assistance
Many parents prefer to have children or other family members do all of the work and complete all of the tasks. From a time and physical availability standpoint, this may not be possible or practical.
Adult children have careers, their own families, children, and other commitments. The added stress of caregiving can result in adversarial family relationships due to feelings of resentment of giving up family time, sacrificing a career, and giving up other important life activities.
Recognize that family relationships and one-on-one time with a frail or ill loved is important. It is most often the daily tasks and projects that wear out the caregiver and result in frustration and resentment.
Hire out the tasks so that family is able to enjoy family. I know few caregivers who will remember scrubbing the toilet after a loved one has passed. I know more caregivers who will remember watching a movie with a loved one or who will reminisce about other positive events or experiences.
If your parents say they don’t want or need the assistance, say that the help is for you.
3 Consult with a caregiving expert to plan next steps
You might be thinking, caregiving expert, do these people really exist and how do I find one? It’s usually not until caregivers are pushed to the edge of their sanity that they begin to seek help.
I know this because of the number of caregivers who contact me who say, “I should have called you six months ago. “ Planning for the next unexpected event is extremely important for caregivers and their loved ones.
Caregiving experts also called advocates, care navigators, geriatric care managers, and other names can assess situations, provide care oversight, recommend and manage support services. In some cases care managers will oversee day-to-day care responsibilities that family may enjoy family time—rather than being buried in caregiving tasks.
The Sober Truth About Caregiving
Research statistics for caregivers are sobering. Many caregivers become as ill, both physically and mentally, as the person for whom they care. Early discussions regarding family member roles and paid support are critical to ensure that the care situation remains positive.
While many parents resist the idea of paying for help, this type of support may be exactly what’s needed to preserve family relationships and to ensure that a loved one receives the best care possible. Being realistic about care needs may be difficult, however having a plan can provide peace of mind.
Seek information and support about receiving assistance with daily tasks and managing a care situation before caregiving and a stress filled life overtakes your life.
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Article by: Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA a national caregiving expert, educator, advocate, and speaker.
More than 20 years of experience as a court-appointed guardian, power of attorney, and care manager serve as Wilson’s platform to increase awareness of caregiving as an essential role in life. She is a content developer, author of all articles on this website, and videos on her YouTube Channel. Wilson hosts and produces The Caring Generation® podcast and is the author of the book The Caregiving Trap. You can reach Pamela by completing the Contact Me Form on this website.
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