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Caregivers Need Care Too: Tips on Managing Caregiver Stress

Manage stress
Stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi, which teach inner balance and relaxation, are helpful for caregivers.

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April 11, 2010

"That 20 minute walk in the fresh air with my best friend was just what I needed."

"At lunch I turn off my phone and email and shut the door. Then I close my eyes and enjoy the quiet for 15 minutes. It's wonderful."

Just 15-20 minutes here and there each day when you can focus on yourself will make a world of difference in managing your caregiver stress.  According to a new Home Instead Senior Care survey, 55 percent  of the family caregivers that eventually employed their professional caregiving services appeared to have above average or significant levels of stress as they came on board. But it doesn't have to be that way.

These tips are recommended while taking care of an aging loved one:

  • Work out: Exercise and enjoy something you like to do (walking, dancing, biking, running, swimming, etc.) for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times per week. Consider learning a stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi, which teach inner balance and relaxation.
  • Meditate: Sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as "quiet" as possible whenever things feel like they are moving too quickly or you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver. Many times you will feel like you don't even have a minute to yourself, but it's important to walk away and to take that minute.
  • Ask for help: According to a national survey by Home Instead Senior Care of adults who are currently providing care for an aging loved one, 72 percent do so without any outside help. To avoid burnout and stress, you can enlist the help of other family members and friends, and/or consider hiring a professional non-medical caregiver for assistance. There is no need to feel guilty for reaching out.
  • Take a break: Make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help (family, friends, volunteers or professional caregivers). Take single days or even a week's vacation. And when you're away, stay away. Talk about different things, read that book you haven't been able to get to, take naps, whatever relaxes you and makes you happy.
  • Eat well: Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains. Indulging in caffeine, fast food and sugar as quick "pick-me-ups" also produce a quick "let-down."
  • Keep your medical appointments: Make sure you get your annual check-up. Being a caregiver provides many excuses for skipping your necessary check-ups, but don't do it. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.
  • Indulge: Treat yourself to a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and to reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative. You shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to feel good.
  • Support: Find a local caregiver support group. They will help you understand that what you are feeling and experiencing is normal. This is a place to get practical advice from people who are in your situation and to bounce off those feelings of stress, since everyone is likely to be in the same situation and can empathize.

As Virginia Morris puts it in her book, How to Care for Aging Parents, it's important for you to take part in "indulgent necessities." Everyone needs some pampering occasionally, for both physical and mental health. So don't feel guilty if you treat yourself once in a while...you deserve it and you need it.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. November 1, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Posted by Amanda

    I am caring for my 55 year old husband who suffers from severe COPD, anxiety, insomnia and severe general breathing issues. He also gets very depressed on occasion. I work part-time in a great job, and my husband is home all day as he is officially disabled. He is often getting bad breathing and anxiety attacks and has recently come out of hospital after a bad bout of pneumonia which was made worse by worries about his heart. He is a worrier, and gets very overwhelmed and grouchy about his condition, his medications, the state of the house and so on. I do my best to keep my smile up, and do the best I can but we also have 4 pets (a 6-month old GSD, an aging Shitzu who now goes to the toilet in the house because of the antics of the puppy and two cats who I love but are also demanding for food, etc). I do all the laundry, pet walking, housework (although we are talking of getting a cleaner as I cannot keep the dust down enough), organize his medication timetable, general try to look after him, check on him and be supportive. I am exhausted! I am trying to do my job too, which I have only just finished the probation period for so have been trying to impress. My boss has been supportive to me when I have had to leave early to go to my husband in hospital, luckily. It is all starting to get too much for me. I love my husband and my home but I am so stressed out and get no quality time to either myself or my marriage. Help!

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    • February 8, 2014 at 7:59 am | Posted by Vilma

      It is very stressful to be a caregiver. More so if the patient is our spouse. Like me, I am a full-time caregiver to my husband who had stroke and has left side weakness. He is diabetic too. Being a veteran, he has also post traumatic stress syndrome. There were times when I would wake up with a knife pointed at my neck. Or suddenly being boxed at my face. One time I had 4 stitches on my scalp and fractures wrist bones when he hit me with his quad cane. He is also addicted to on-line dating sites. He always have female friends but few male friends. Recently he reconnected with his long lost daughter. Then suddenly they made plans of living together and leaving me alone! I felt I was only used and abused.

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  2. October 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Posted by Jim

    I've been a caregiver for my mother for the past 4 years. She is very opiniated on all subjects and listening to her frustrates the crap out of me on most subjects. We have lots of arguments as she relies on me for everything. After working all day, I have to come home and have to cater to her emotional needs which are many. She is lonesome and needs to be around people her own age. I need some advice, cause I'm quickly losing my mind. When we argue, she will bring up every little thing that has happened in the past and fight about it. It's like hearing the same broken record every time. I'm really at the end of my rope. and suggestions please?

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  3. August 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Posted by Robin

    I helped take care of my grandparents and my mom she passed away last year after a long battle with lung cancer

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  4. November 30, 2012 at 12:23 am | Posted by Donna

    You must have angelic characteristics. I have been a caregiver for only about 10 years to a husband who is 78 yrs old- quad bi-pas piece of cake, but nearing the time it will be deteriorating, diabetic, several strokes one of which was severe, but a lot of recovery mentally if not physically and incontinence. We have between us 13 children-all grown with families of their own. We live near 3 of my daughters all who work full-time and are busy with children and grand-children and some their own illnesses..I probably could ask for help, but we had our time with our families and except for a short period of time when I visited my Mother regularly in a nursing home we went about our lives with very little stress. However I work full-time so I always feel guilty for his being alone so much of the time. He is a good good man yet I feel frustration and resentment a lot. I am not good at asking for help. But after reading your story I feel like a really selfish woman. I pray you find a way to get help in your home and a break for you to have time to rejuvenate, whatever that would be for you. I feel encouraged to get some help if I can find a way to afford it. For me staying home would be stressful to both of us--we are both very sociable people ,,so need to find a way to increase his contact with others as well as a little help for me with his bathing and changing. May God bless you with the help you need and the courage to make whatever changes you need to make to protect your health and may I be humble enough to do the same.

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  5. July 30, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Posted by Linda Evans

    Dear Janet, I am so very sorry for your situation. I do not think you are whining, actually I think you are stating the "facts" and when you realize the enormity of them, you become angry at the insensitivity of the other family members. I, too, do the same thing. I have no one to "vent" too - hence, I will vent to the cashier at the rest stop returning home from Atlantic City, or other strangers I may meet in passing. My mother-in-law had a stroke 2 yrs ago, my husband & I moved in for a "month" which has turned into 2 yrs, my husband's brother said at the time "this was all on him" - meaning my husband. My husband's health is compromised also, i.e., diabetes (4 insulin shots, daily), obesity, difficulty breathing, I assist him with personal hygiene, putting wheelchair on & off car, pushing his mother in wheelchair, while my husband is in power chair, father-in-law uses walker (Thank God!). Though I did have comic relief when in Atlantic City at this lovely restaurant & the 3 power wheelchairs & I entered area of restaurant & the maitre d' escorted the 3 power chairs to the table (because none can walk from where power chair is parked to table), as the in-laws & husband were seated I drove power chair to the pre-determined "parking space". I was grateful that the maitre d' kindly parked one of the chairs. My husband & I never had children, but I truly empathize with parents who take their children on an "outing". Boy, has life changed!!! My husband thought it would be good for his Mom to go to Atlantic City, where they went as a family 40+ yrs ago. I thought it was going to be difficult for the parents - but, my husband wanted to do good for his Mom - the end result being that it was too much for her. We just returned 2 nights ago & she is having a hard time readjusting to being home. As simple as something seems, it really is more traumatic then initially realized. I feel badly for my husband, because he really tried to put some happiness into their lives and he paid the price (coffee and corn muffins with scrambled eggs were about $40.00 from room service - yikes!!!!). Well, thank YOU for listening, I am sorry, I can go on forever with this. I hope all goes well for you. You have my accolades for what you do for your family. Take care, Sincerely, Linda :) :) :)

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  6. May 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Posted by Janet

    It is true that you can always look around and find others in a much worse situation than yourself. I thank God every day for the physical strength he gives me to be able to do the things I need to do each day. I am a breast cancer survivor of 11 years now and am so very grateful that I have been able to be here to see my children and grandchildren grow and thrive. It is truly a blessing. My own mother was taken at a young age and did not get to see most of her grandchildren. I have a 35 year old son, who at 3 months of age quit breathing and as a result has a traumatic brain injury. He was most affected in the logic and reasoning area of the brain. He is a sweet spirit and is relatively high functioning, has found a job that accepts him for who he is, can drive his own car, has some good friends and participates in special olympics. In the last five years he has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia which was triggered by a police officer who stopped him in his car because he matched the description of a drug dealer they were looking for. (and treated him like he was a drug dealer until he realized the mistake). After that my son shut down completely, was catatonic, suicidal, and remembers very little of being hospitalized for that episode. He has been slowly getting back to being himself. He doesn't pick up on social ques and needs help daily with personal hygiene, finances and decision making. My husband of 43 years has had MS for the last 23 years and it is now progressive. He has always been a very "I" oriented person and is disagreeable and negative most of the time, (even before the MS). He is progressively getting worse and needs assistance with physical activities. I have to give him credit, he still tries very hard to do things for himself, but that is becoming almost impossible with the rapid progression of the disease. My 90, soon to be 91 year old Mother in law and I have been close for many years. We have moved her to a home directly across the street from ours, which has been a blessing for both her and I. We live in a patio home community with only one level. It has been a great help for her and my husband to be able to function better. I don't know if she has dementia or alzheimer s and the doctors just say "what do you expect at her age?". She is on a low dose of Aricept, but I don't see any improvement with that. She doesn't remember things I tell her, time means nothing to her, she sees people and things in her house that I don't see, they don't scare her, they are just there. She refuses to live with us or to consider any other living arrangement. She wants me to be there with her most of the time and I can't be. I make sure she eats, has her medications and eye drops twice a day for glaucoma. (We do hire a housekeeper who comes in twice a month to do the heavy cleaning and is terrific.) My two sisters in law, who live within an hour drive from their mom, are of little to no help in her care. They expect that Janet will do it. They are free to go and do as they please, have good husbands who help them with everything, but feel no obligation to help with their mothers care. Because of some good financial decisions I made while working, I am financially ok, but not rich. My mother in law has a good retirement and is also financially ok. I thank God for that. I find myself being resentful of my situation at times, but I never show that to my son or my mother in law. They can't help their circumstances. I am harder on my husband who seems to get the brunt of my frustration. He is negative and resentful and depressed and has always been hard to love. He was very athletic and active before and can't do any of his favorite things now so he does nothing and rarely leaves the house. He thinks everyone is looking at him and he doesn't want their pity. I've told him over and over that isn't the case, but he refuses to believe that. I don't know what to do to help. I resolve every day to be kinder, more patient and to just let things go. By mid day, I find myself impatient and resentful. No need to comment on this, I think I just needed a place I could write it all down and get it off my chest. I'm feeling very sad for myself. What a crock. I have a beautiful family and four beautiful grandchildren, a nice home, I can pay my bills, a loving little boston terrier who gives me unconditional love, two other children who have wonderful spouses and children and good lives. I have so many blessings in my life and my situation is so much better than so many others have, I can't believe I am whining. Just overwhelmed with a little angry and frustrated in the mix and it keeps wanting to boil over. Maybe getting it out and on paper will help me put things in a better perspective.

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  7. March 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Posted by Mils

    My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2011. I am the youngest of three and have assumed the responsibility of caregiver. To feel overloaded is an understatement. I know God is working in our lives but I can't help to question the events that have occurred in my life for the past two years. Losing my job of 10 years, unable to meet the monthly payments of my home, resulting in foreclosure, the separation of my parents who have been married for 44 years and leaving my mom pretty much isolated and depressed. Troubles in my relationship with my boyfriend and just simply feeling lost in the midst of all this. I am grateful that I now have a job and I am in the middle of working something out with my home, that I am healthy. How do you cope when you have other stresses in life? I have withdrawn from friends and family. I lack the desire to go out because I'm tired most of the time. I love my mother and I truly hope and pray that she will recover and come out of this stronger than ever. I hope she gets a chance to inspire and encourage other woman who are fighting the same battle. I have learned a great deal about Breast cancer and it's also my desire to help other woman and caregivers that are going through it. In times like these, I turn my faith to God, even when everything around me seems to be tumbling down. I also discovered that I must first love myself, truly deeply love myself and every inch of my being. We are all creation of God and we may question why this is happening to us but the truth is, we are human beings and we ALL need to feel and be loved. It is my wish that I find inner peace and the strength to live life fully and to continue to be there for my mother. I can only do what I can with what I have and I leave the rest to God. He is the ultimate healer, all I have to do is call for him. My mom starts her chemo treatment next week so I'm not even sure what to expect but what I do know is, it's not going to be easy. There's so much going on emotionally that I just have to take it one day at a time... If you or anyone you know has breast cancer, I would highly recommend to check out The Cancer Treatment Center of America (CTCA). I took my mom there for a three day evaluation and there was such an outpouring of love and concern from the staff and doctors. They made sure that they tended to our every need and that all of our questions and concerns were answered. And although it's quite a distance from home, I believe this is the right place for my mom to receive her treatment. She also felt the warm environment that CTCA offers. Before I close, I would like to say that writing this have helped me release some of these emotions and that no one else can make me happy or strong, I have to find that inner strength to know that despite of all these obstacles, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I believe my mother will fight this cancer and that she'll be able to share her story with other women. I hope that this message also inspires you in some way and if it does, I would love to hear from you. God bless you, you are truly a beautiful caring person to be able to stand by your loved one side in this difficult time in their lives.

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  8. February 10, 2011 at 2:32 am | Posted by teresa parrish

    @ lyndon ! My husband of 31 yrs suffers from M.S. and has for many years ! So many things u say hits home for me ! It's just me and him most of the time ! We have a neighbor that has been an angel ! For several years he has came over all hrs and helped me get my husband up off the floor ! The last year he gets him in and out of the shower for me and so much more ! We are blessed to have him ! It is still a very different life that most just don't know ! Hope u get better soon and we both hang in there till the good lord gives us the help we need !

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  9. February 5, 2011 at 2:46 am | Posted by Lyndon

    I find it amazing that most of the post are from women. Is it taboo for a man to experience caregiver burnout too? My wife of 29 years has progressive MS and she requires 24/7 care now. In the last 5 years things have escalated to the point I have had to give up my job and everything else I enjoyed in this life. As a previous person mentioned, how do you take care of your own health? Its impossible and the mental aspect has taken a heavy toll on me. To never have experienced problems with depression I suddenly found myself falling deeper into depression to the point I become clinically deprressed. My situation had become so hopeless I felt that for one time I was going to do what I wanted to do. In hindsight I think it was a cry for help from other family members. Needless to say now I am the one that's all screwed up in the head. Nursing home has never been an option for me to put my wife in so I was totally shocked when I called on her Dad for help and he suggested I just put her in the nursing home. She was devestated to hear that from him. I constantly live with guilt because I have become somewhat resentful towards her because I feel she just takes me for granted. Where does all this guilt come from being a caregiver? One year ago I suffered a massive heart attack, went into cardiac arrest and had to be shocked 3 times to start my heart back. Since then I have had 3 more heart attacks and as I write this I am recovering from open heart surgery. I am not over weight, I don't drink or smoke and every doctor ask the same question. "What kind of stress am I under to cause me to have this kind of heart disease?" I have a little help right now but I know in a few weeks it will be all right back on me. I also sleep on the couch. Not really sure why except it just seems to give me a little time just to myself. I feel I have been redused from a very productive hard working, supporting husband to a guilt ridden, clinically depressed, angry and useless person to society. My heart goes out to every caregiver and you should never be judged because those people have never walked in your shoes. Well anyway, as we all say at least it feels good to vent.

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  10. January 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Posted by Susan

    I'm 51 going on 52 in may. My husband had a stroke he has right sided paralysis. I'm taking care of my 2 teenage girls and my husband who is 56. We lost our entire yearly income so we are only living on SSDI . Aids come 3x week to give him a bath at the kitchen sink as our only shower is upstairs. I do all I can for him but he resents me as I'm now in charge of finances and everything else . Cooking cleaning wash clothes and taking every one to appointments. I'm depressed as I'm socially withdrawn from family who all live too far away to help. I'm on an antidepressant, mood stabilizer, and anti anxiety meds to help me cope. I read the bible an ask the lord for strength. We are housebound and isolated . I've forced myself to take a 20 min walk whenever I'm able. God has shown me what hitting rock bottom feels like. Why I ask? I guess I feel to young to have this burden but what can I do ? I've now been found disabled mentally and physically an will be getting my own SSDI soon. Thank you lord as I could never work an take care of everything as I can now. Susan

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  11. January 24, 2011 at 1:31 am | Posted by Betsy

    My husband is to be 64 in March. I 56 in July, together we have a 17yr.old senior in high school. (fortunately, she is a VERY ACTIVE, VERY GOOD GIRL) In so many activities, and in addition take's a couple of college classes, therefore, I can't complain about her, nor her absence from home so much. She and I are both in therapy. My husband has had 5 back surgeries, 3 knee, open heart surgery, has COPD, is in congestive heart and kidney failure, is on a V-Pap, because he basically flat lines through the night, and on 5 ltrs. of o2 full time. He need's a total knee replacement, but they won't put him under due to all the above. SO....basically he sit's all day. The TV goes 24-7, and I'm LOOSING MY MIND!!!! Our total monthy income based completely on his diability is less than 32,000 a yr, but that doesn't qualify us for ANY assistance. My daughter and I have no insurance, he has at least sos disability. The wall's are closing in on me!!! The only reason we are not homeless, Thank God, is that our deposit is made on the 3rd of each mo. and the house pmt is taken out on the 5th. But we keep getting farther and farther behind on everything, as where we live in No. NV the utilities are OUTRAGIOUS. So..I guess what I'm trying to say, is you are not alone, and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I haved checked into several work from home jobs, but in my opinion they all appear to be scams.

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  12. January 18, 2011 at 10:20 am | Posted by Carol

    Our family of 6 children are having such a difficult time recently with our Step-father who is 85 years old and is the caregiver for our mother who is 88. Our mother has chosen to remain in her home and we respect her wishes. Because of some memory loss, the ability to care for herself completely is an issue. She is in need of a nurse to monitor medications and person hygiene care. The CCAC has allowed a PSW 3 hours/bi-weekly initially for Mom's care and light cleaning and laundry. But due to complaints from PSW regarding inappropriate behaviour by our Step-father time has been reduced to 45 mins twice a week. Mom believes that the decrease in hours were due to cut-backs in staff hours. She believes what he tells her but we know differently from CCAC. They have hired a homemaker for light cleaning, some cooking and laundry. Our Step-father refuses to pay for nursing care for Mom but hired homemaker to assist him with chores around the house and pays for her time to chat with him over coffee. We are worried that Mom is mainly in in her bedroom where she can here all conversations when he is stating that she is a burden, she forgets things which makes him angry. Visits with Mom are brief because of friction in the house. He tells everyone the kids don't help, We have all been there for both of them until recently with 5 out of 6 of us that have our own severe disabilities which obviously says that we cannot come on DEMAND. Our sister works full time, has 2 teenagers, husband and her own life but gives so much in doing most of the outings and appointments with them. We have set up so many support systems/groups for them but they refuse to use them because the family should be there. As seniors ourselves, it is sad to say that our severe health issues limits our physical help. Our phone calls are met with sarcasm. I try to do Mom's spa day with wash/cut/curl hair, trim nails, moisturize and rub all over to help her circulation and skin condition. It is a sorry situation the doctor says, but they have decided to refuse help from senior services so what can we do? We keep hearing that they have their rights, and yes we are respecting them. It has become such a safety issue within the home. What more can we do????

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  13. January 4, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Posted by Kathy

    I am a caregiver for my Mother-in-law for 12 years now.She is 92 and I quit my job to care for her after she had a heart attack.She will not live with us. My husband is an only child. I now have the job of caring for her. She is a very demanding person and never has a pleasant word for me. She is sweet to everyone but me. I do laundry,shopping,bill paying ,Doctor appointments ,medication dispensing,etc. I have such hatred for the position I hold.My husband doesn't see the problem Anyone else share this situation?

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  14. December 27, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Posted by Brenda

    I am sad...so-o very sad. And I am extremely tired. My husband of 50 years has a Dx of TRAITS of PD, essential tremors and dementia.It began immediately following his TURP surgery for his Enlarged Prostate.He had mini strokes in recovery. He takes many meds. His wonderfully funny, educated sense of humor has gone. In its place, is Anger. I am the target. 2 adult sons are very helpful, but I find that I can't relax even when I'm told to take a nap, go for walk, etc. Trying to locate good non-medical help is difficult. Any suggestions?

    Reply

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