Caregiver stress is unavoidable, but it can be managed
Stress is an inevitable part of a caregiver’s life. It’s important for our health and well-being to work on taking care of ourselves and managing stress. Plus, when we’re feeling better, we can be better caregivers to our older adults.
It would be great if caregiving wasn’t so hard or if we could take a few months off to relax on the beach…but unfortunately, that’s not realistic. So, what can we do instead?
We found a great article from Reader’s Digest with 37 ways to relieve stress. We narrowed the list the 14 most practical stress relief tips for busy caregivers and added suggestions for how to make them work in everyday caregiving situations.
14 tips to reduce caregiver stress
1. Breathe deeply
Deep breaths increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, which helps you relax instantly. In contrast, shallow breathing makes your heart beat faster and your muscles tense – intensifying your stress.
When you feel stressed, put your hand near your belly button. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.
2. Visualize calm
This might sound hokey, but studies have found that it works for relieving stress. When you feel tense and frustrated, imagine yourself in a calm, relaxing situation. Think about the details – how it looks, sounds, and smells.
For example, imagine that you’re in a hot soothing shower with lavender-scented soap and your stress is washing away down the drain. Or, you’re walking on a warm beach, listening to the crashing waves, smelling the salt air, and watching a beautiful sunset.
3. Make time for a mini self-massage
Ok, a full-on massage in a spa would be ideal, but when that’s not possible, self-massage is still a great way to cope with caregiver stress.
Make circular motions with your thumb to massage the palm of your other hand. Or, get a massage gadget to soothe your neck, shoulders, and body. Here are 3 great options: Hand held scalp massager, ENOWPO rechargeable mini massager, Shiatsu back & neck massager.
4. Smile, even if you don’t feel like it
Smiling works in two ways. We do it when we’re happy, but the act of smiling can actually cause you to feel happier. So even if you’re feeling crappy, go ahead a paste a big smile on your face. You’ll actually feel better!
5. Repeat your mantra
Affirmations also sound hokey, but they do work. When you tell yourself something positive, it helps you cope with whatever is happening. A good mantra could be something like:
- I feel calm and I can handle this.
- It will be ok, I can do this.
- I am good at this. I can handle this.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or hopeless, repeat your stress-relieving mantra 10 times.
6. Be a fighter
Thinking things like “Why do I have to be the one taking care of mom?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” only add to your stress. When you feel like a victim, you’ll be filled with self-pity and hopelessness.
If you focus on being proactive and work to improve your situation, you’ll feel more in control and less stressed.
7. Get it down on paper
Writing down your thoughts helps get them out of your head and gives you better perspective on the things that are bothering you.
A helpful exercise is to divide a piece of paper into two parts. On one side, write down things you might be able to change, like finding caregiving help. On the other, write down the things you can’t change, like being the primary caregiver. Focus on the things you can change because stressing over things you can’t change only hurts yourself.
8. Count to 10
Caregiving is frustrating and your older adult probably gets on your last nerve several times a day. Before you say or do something you might regret, step away and give yourself a minute to collect yourself before you respond.
Count to 10, take 5 deep breaths, or do 3 stretches – whatever you need to calm down and think rationally again.
9. Surround yourself with a relaxing scent
Essential oils like lavender, peppermint, rose, and eucalyptus are soothing and relaxing. For a simple scent diffuser, put a few pieces of rock salt in a small container and add a few drops of an essential oil. When you feel stressed, open the container and breathe in the relaxing scent.
You could also get an aromatherapy oil diffuser to create a soothing scented atmosphere in the room. Some caregivers have said that using these types of room diffusers are a great way for both them and their older adult to feel more relaxed.
10. Shake it off
Most people carry stress in the muscles of their neck or shoulders. Loosening them up helps you literally shake off some of the stress.
Stand or sit, stretch your arms out from your sides and shake your hands vigorously for about 10 seconds. While you’re at it, take a few deep breaths. You might look ridiculous when doing this, but you’ll feel much better.
11. Get moving
Getting up and moving around helps you breathe more deeply and increases circulation. If you can, go outside for a brief walk. If you can’t leave your older adult, walk around inside the house.
12. Take a soak
When you get a chance to take a break, run yourself a hot bath. Soaking helps your body relax and releases tension. If you don’t have time for a bath, wash your face, hands, or arms with warm or hot water. While you’re doing that, imagine that you’re taking a relaxing bath.
13. Listen to music
Music is an excellent way to relieve stress and boost mood. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, listen to some of your favorite tunes. Get an extra relaxation bonus by dancing like nobody’s watching.
14. Stretch it out
Muscles naturally tighten up over the day and when we’re stressed, they get even more tense. Take some time to relax and release that stress with stretches or gentle yoga accompanied by deep breathing.
You might also like:
— Stress Relief for Caregivers: Free App Helps You Relax in 2 Minutes
— Reduce Caregiver Stress Using Your Smartphone Alarm
— 3 Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress and Prevent Burnout
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: New Canaan Chamber of Commerce