4 Tips for Easing Caregiver Stress
I read the other day that the University of Wisconsin is collaborating with health officials in Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington on a study aimed at understanding what triggers stress in caregivers. Called Tailored Caregiver Assessment and Referral, or TCARE, the goal is to give people an understanding about how to making caring for a loved one easier. It’s important work: more than 65 million Americans provide care to a loved one.
The story caught my attention because many of the patients who use our air ambulance service require some form of convalescent care (designed to help people recover from serious illness, surgery or injury). Whether you’re taking care of a parent, a spouse, a child, or some other loved one, the fact is that being solely responsible for every aspect of a person’s care 24/7, no matter how much we love that person, can be really hard.
So if you’re a caregiver, here are 4 tips to ease your stress:
1. Accept help. As a caregiver, you are a hero for sure, but you don’t have to be Superman. When neighbors offer to bring over a hot meal, say yes! If you have children, remember when they were newborns: you probably didn’t fret over letting some things slide (the running joke is that new parents haven’t brushed their teeth in a week) and, more importantly, over asking for (and accepting) help. Let other people help you shoulder the responsibility.
2. Don’t give in to guilt. Caregiver guilt can be particularly painful, but you’ll realize that if you accept your feelings instead of pushing them aside they will actually lose a lot of their power. “I should be able to do this on my own.” “I shouldn’t feel mad/sad/resentful.” Therapists call these “shaming shoulds” – and they don’t do anyone any good. As the Family Caregiver Alliance points out: “You are not selfish to think about yourself and your needs and feelings. Although caregivers feel guilty when they get angry or frustrated, these feelings are ok and a way to know how well you are coping.”
3. Join a support group. The Mayo Clinic points out that “a support group can be a great source for encouragement and advice from others in similar situations. It can also be a good place to make new friends.” Your weekly support group meeting can be a great “excuse” to get out of the house. For more regular support, join an online caregivers’ support forum.
4. Take time for yourself. Our medical flight crews, who experience similar stressors, especially on long international medical flights, make time off a priority. They realize that if they don’t rest and relax after a medical transport, they will burn out. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “One of the stressors of caregiving is seeing no end to the situation. Having a life and connections outside of caregiving helps you to maintain perspective, so that caregiving doesn't become your only reality.”
Some of our patients and families have called us heroes, but the real heroes are the caregivers who are by the patient’s side day in and day out. But remember, you’re not superhuman. Not only do you deserve to take care of yourself, too, but doing so will make you a better caregiver for your loved one.