Dealing With Caregiver Stress: A Self-Help Approach

Caregiving is challenging work – full stop. The bottom line is that providing caregiver assistance for your aging parent may be one of the hardest tasks you undertake in your adult life. It can also be the most gratifying task. Consequently, the range of emotions you experience as a caretaker will be wide-ranging. In order to be an effective caregiver and a person whose own life remains on course, you need to craft a strategy to deal with the stress inherent in your role in assisting your aging mother or father. There are some self-help strategies that can – and should – employ as a caretaker, which we present for your consideration in this article.

Self-Care Is Not Selfish

When a person is a caregiver for an aging parent or someone else, when the subject of self-care for the caregiver comes up, there can be a feeling of guilt. A caregiver might feel that he or she is being selfish by engaging in self-care.

The reality is that self-care for a caregiver definitely is not selfish. Nonetheless, self-care tends to be one of the biggest challenges for those caring for ill and aging loved ones, but it is necessary for the wellness of the entire care team. Even though this is a need we all understand the importance of, there is something about caregiving that triggers guilt in anyone who yearns for a moment alone to pursue physical and mental healing.

Keep in mind that a caregiver who has a self-care regimen benefits not only himself or herself but those around that individual as well. This includes the individual who is being assisted by a particular caregiver.

Caregiver Self-Care Components

There are many different types of self-care available for a caregiver. In addition, self-care can mean something different to each caregiver needing this type of respite. Caring for yourself can be:

  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Sensory
  • Purely pleasurable

Some caregivers thrive on physical activities like walking, hiking, working out, or running. Other caregivers enjoy mentally challenging activities that boost their self-confidence, including activities like reading or solving puzzles. Other people who provide caregiving assistance prefer an emotional release like journaling or using laughter as a type of self-care or therapy.

Caregiving imposes limitations on time, energy, and financial resources, causing many to abandon the hobbies and pastimes previously enjoyed. Some of the caregivers search for new types of respite that fit better with routines associated with caregiving. The bottom line is that caregivers must establish some realistic self-care regimen that works for them.

Social Support for Caregivers

Social support is also crucial when it comes to self-help for caregivers. In other words, interacting with others can be crucial when a person is providing caregiving assistance to an aging parent or someone else.

Social support includes spending time with other family members. It also can mean spending time with friends. The reality is that these types of social connections can be hampered when a person takes on the responsibilities of being a caregiver. Self-help can include ensuring these key connections and relationships remain in place.

When it comes to social support for caregivers, there are also support groups available in many communities. These types of groups allow caregivers the opportunity to come together for mutual support. Oftentimes, caregiver support groups are more than just regular gatherings of people assisting others. They also include purely social activities like sharing meals and other types of events or gatherings.

12 Ways a Caregiver Can Take Better Care of His or Her Self

A caregiver should take some specific steps as part of self-care and better care of himself or herself. According to Psychology Today, there are 12 specific ways a caregiver can take better care of his or herself while providing assistance with activities of daily living to another person:

  • Make sleep a key part of self-care
  • Pay attention to the health of your gut (digestive system)
  • Include exercise in your self-care regimen
  • Make eating correctly a part of self-care
  • Learn to say no (don’t take on too much)
  • Take a self-care tip (get away for a couple of days)
  • Go outside as part of self-care
  • Consider a pet to support your self-care
  • Get organized as part of self-care
  • Make your own healthy and tasty meals
  • Read a book on self-care (for ideas and inspiration)
  • Schedule specific time for self-care (and guard that time)

Stay Committed to Self-Care

Developing and sticking to a self-care routine may seem like a chore at first. The importance of self-care cannot be understated. Perseverance and flexibility are crucial when it comes to developing a self-care regimen as a caregiver.

If something doesn’t work at first as you develop a self-care regimen, try once more or consider changing your approach entirely. As long as you take the time to do something for yourself, it shouldn’t be considered a hassle or failure. The goal is self-care, not self-improvement. You are important, and you need to believe that you are worth the time it takes for proper self-care.

You should also remember that professional counseling is always an option if you need additional support as a caregiver. Self-care works for many caregivers. However, there are times when thoughts and feelings become somewhat overwhelming. When that happens, the right counselor can help a caregiver regain his or her footing. Regardless of how you develop a self-care regimen, the key message is that you need to be kind to yourself. Your well-being and that of your care recipient depend upon it.

Psychology Today sums up the vital importance of self-care for a caregiver:

It’s important to ensure you take good care of your body, mind, and soul every day, not just when you get sick. Learning how to eat right, reduce stress, exercise regularly, and take a time-out when you need it are touchstones of self-care and can help you stay healthy, happy, and resilient.