Ways Caregivers Can Reduce Stress and Get More Free Time
These tips can help you cope through challenging times
Listing the challenges faced by caregivers is easy. The responsibilities are constant and time consuming. This leads to stress and a drain on energy. The hard part is balancing the demands from all directions: family, financial, work and friendships.
Caregiving comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people perform chores for loved ones, like buying groceries, providing transportation or fixing faucets. Others take on health services like cleaning wounds or changing oxygen tanks.
While caregiving situations are different, the one thing all caregivers experience is significant stress and little time for themselves.
Time, See What's Become of Me
I assisted my parents and often found myself in the balancing act familiar to many caregivers: work, caregiving duties and a family. What I didn’t have was any free time.
Research shows that time constraints remain a constant issue in the caregiver’s world. More than 90 percent of caregivers provide 21 or more hours of care every week, according to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 report. That’s on top of the 40 or more hours a week that 56 percent of caregivers work at their regular job.
These 60-plus hours of work and caregiving often lead to significant stress, which, in turn, may lead to declining caregiver health. Studies have shown that caregiver stress is associated with higher rates of depression and lower perceptions of personal health, according to the Caregiver Action Network. Stress can even increase inflammatory markers (negatively affecting the immune system) in ways that may increase the caregiver’s risk of illness, according to a 2003 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Put Yourself in Time Out
Caregivers want more information about controlling the stress caused by caring for others. Overall, 42 percent of caregivers are looking for help to manage their own stress, according to the 2015 Caregiving report. Those who provide care 21 or more hours a week are even more concerned about managing stress, with 51 percent seeking information.
Sharing caregiving duties is a concrete way to reduce stress. Ask siblings to take a turn as caregiver, so you can have some respite. There are variety of ways they can help. Brothers and sisters can take on some caregiving time, or prepare meals or run errands for you or the loved one.
If siblings aren’t a viable resource, check with local community organizations that support seniors. Many of these organizations offer classes or different activities geared toward older adults. Caregivers who belong to a religious organization may find it to be a great source of both emotional support and assistance with some caregiving duties.
No matter how you end up getting a few minutes to yourself, just about any break helps.
Put yourself in "time out" by taking a nap, going to the gym, taking a walk or meditating. These are all practical ways to reduce stress, according to the Harvard Health Blog.
Turning inward and reframing the situation may be another way to manage stress. “Benefit finding,” the notion that challenging life events like caregiving can create positive health and mental health benefits, was explored in a 2014 issue of the Journal of Health Psychology. It is also emphasized in a new book, AARP Meditations for Caregivers: Practical, Emotional and Spiritual Support for You and Your Family.
Researchers found that caregivers who feel they get something from caregiving — enjoying the time spent with the person, personal satisfaction from a job well done, knowing the importance of the work — may have an improved quality of life. “Caregivers who derive and find benefit from their caregiving role perceived their social support to be better, which in turn increased their sense of (quality of life),” the Journal of Health Psychology study explained.
Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News
Caregivers who work closely with the loved one’s physician often can increase free time through improved communication.
Introducing yourself to the doctor is the first step. Many times, physicians simply aren’t aware of the integral involvement and role that caregivers are playing in the lives of their patients. If you’re able to attend appointments with the older adult, this is an opportune time to ask about supplementary health services, which can benefit time management.
Ask if home care is an option. Having professionals help in the loved one’s home can decrease the amount of time the caregiver spends traveling to and from appointments, according to a 2003 caregiver literature review published in Supportive Oncology. This extra in-home assistance may include housecleaning, help with bathing and dressing, meal preparation, pill box set-up and administration or the dressing of chronic wounds.
For the older adult who wants to get out of the house, day programs designed especially for them are a terrific option. These programs often provide health care services, transportation, meals and activities for older adults. Having a loved one participate in this type of program is a great way to get a break of a several hours to concentrate on yourself. Check with your loved one’s physician to find out if this is a realistic care option.
My work puts me in contact with caregivers frequently, and I understand the balancing act caregivers face in meeting the needs of all who depend on them. I encourage caregivers to reach out to family and their community, prioritize spending time on self-care, and explore time-saving options.
Caregiving circumstances are unique and ever-changing. Getting information about options in advance and planning for the future can help caregivers find that elusive time for themselves.