caregiver stressCaregiving can be stressful and exhausting, but that often pales in contrast to the rewards. A recent report from the American Psychological Association, Stress In America, documented the strain that caretaking is having on our aging population, especially for Baby Boomers. Caregiver stress relief is more important than ever.

Caregivers, those providing care to both the aging and chronically ill, have reported , poorer health,  higher levels of stress and a greater tendency to engage in unhealthy ways of alleviating that stress than most of the rest of the population. The survey also shows that caregivers, especially those over fifty, often suffer from high cholesterol, high blood pressure, may be overweight or obese and struggle with depression. Below you’ll find a few suggestions to help avoid those consequences.

A few times in the past five years I’ve had the chance to help a friend or family member in recovery. It was a right of passage and an honor to nurture my mother as she was recovering from a week in the hospital after a ‘minor’ heart attack. Later I was able to help my Dad out in the few months before his passing. More recently a dear friend just needed some company during a heart surgery ordeal and luckily all turned out well.

Here’s why caregiver stress relief is so important:

  • Schedules are upended for days, weeks or even longer.
  • Work, rest, meal times, relationships and exercise routines falter.
  • Sleep is often compromised
  • The discipline of radical prioritizing becomes a necessity

I found that I was running around doing errands, spending hours on the freeway between homes and hospitals, shuttling between doctor appointments. I was able to give back in small ways to the parents who raised me with their kindness and generosity. I was able to be a true friend, to hold space for someone and let them know how precious they were. My resiliency surprised me. Late one night already exhausted, I ran out to the store to pick up something at the pharmacy and didn’t think twice. It needed to be done. Not shining my own star here, it was just a surprise to experience what was truly important and just do it. I had to let go of the relentless to-do lists that fill my days and nights.

My experience isn’t out of the norm as this year’s Stress In America survey revealed. Concern about stress and health is especially critical among adults 50 and older who serve as caregivers for a family member.

How to manage caretaker stress relief:

  • Make rest a priority. If that means working naps into your schedule at odd times, then enjoy it! Even 20 minutes of power napping will make a difference.
  • Exercise when you can. As above find time to fit it into the schedule. You may not be able to get to the gym or yoga class, but walk – outside is great –  and fill your lungs with fresh air. The time spent will exponentially resuscitate your spirits.
  • Stretch often. Take moments to check in with what’s going on in your body and stretch a sore neck, back or shoulder when you can. There are lots of good small stretches in the Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga books and audio. Great for on-the-go care.
  • Watch out for ‘emotional eating’. There are times that a slice of cheesecake or a super sweet mocha latte lure you, but don’t establish new habits that will in the long run make it harder for you to help anyone and will be more difficult to break later.
  • Eat protein rich snacks. These will last longer in staving off hunger pains and help you resist the snack machine in the clinic or the quick mart when you gas up. Keep a baggie of nuts and dried fruits in your purse or car. Resist eating the whole thing at once!
  • Drink plenty of water. Carrying a bottle of fresh spring water will help your body deal with stress and fight fatigue.
  • Work some fun into your days. Get out with a friend, see a movie, go thrift store shopping. Even an hour or two will help you achieve some balance and don’t guilt-trip yourself that you’re not doing enough.
  • Find your community. In many areas there are support groups and free or low-cost retreats for caregivers. The isolation of long-term caretaking can lead to stress and depression.

Taking care of yourself will help you manage the stress of caretaking, be more present and happier in the long run.