At the beginning of your caregiving journey things were pretty simple. You provided a comfortable bed for your loved one, did the laundry, made medical and dental appointments, fixed nutritious meals, provided taxi service, and daily companionship. By itself, each task is simple, but life can change simple things to complex ones.
Your loved one may get a cold and be bedridden for days. She or he may develop a second chronic disease. A sudden toothache can change caregiving plans in a flash. Already short on sleep, you may become cranky, sleep deprived, and discouraged, so discouraged you want to send out an SOS distress call, the international signal for distress. While other caregivers are willing to help you, there are steps you can take to lower your stress.
Go to bed at the same time.
This recommendation comes from sleep experts and, though you may not be able to follow it every night, it is a worthy goal. Going to bed at the same time helps to program your body clock and expect sleep at that time. A good night’s sleep helps to prepare you for the next day.
Eat regularly and eat right.
Tempted as you may be to eat on the run, this isn’t good for digestion or overall health. Sugary snacks give you a temporary burst of energy, but this burst fizzles quickly. A wiser step is to keep healthy snacks – carrot stocks, apple wedges, and grapes – on hand when you need to munch on something. Almonds and walnuts may also quell your hunger.
Discuss thorny issues.
Diana B. Denholm, PhD, LMHC, offers this advice in her book, The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook. “Even in households with the best communication, some issues are daunting to raise,” she writes. Not discussing issues leads to stress build-up, according to Denholm. Her advice: answer questions yourself, prepare for conversations, use communication tools, set a discussion date, prepare yourself emotionally, and “create understandings.”
Stay physically active.
Several years ago, when my husband’s aorta dissected for the first time, I was so stressed I could hardly make conversation. He was hospitalized for days and I visited him every day. After the visit, I went to the athletic club and walked on a treadmill. A staff member recognized me and asked about my husband. I summarized the situation and she replied, “I love it when people use exercise to cope with stress.”
Schedule daily “Me Time.”
Writing is my special time. What is yours? Doing something for yourself each day renews your spirit and your energy. Your “Me Time” can be working on a hobby, reading, or going to a museum. While you’re caring for a loved one you need to care for you.
Care for your spirit.
You may do this with meditation, prayer, reading spiritual and religious books, attending church services, and volunteering in your community. In her book, Passages in Caregiving, author Gail Sheehy asks caregivers to explore and affirm spirituality. “Believers of all faiths can find solace in their own creeds and rituals,” she writes. “But even nonbelievers, faced with existential issues, may find that talking with a trained spiritual counselor . . . awakens feelings of compassion and communion with all humans facing the same issues.”
Connect with other caregivers.
You may also care for your spirit and yourself by logging into The Caregiver Space website regularly, reading the blogs, and posting blogs of your own. You are not alone. Thousands of caregivers are ready and willing to answer your distress call. Don’t feel guilty about asking for help. You are not a failure, you are a realist – a dedicated, loving caregiver adapting to life. We are in the caregiving trenches together, and can support and learn from one another.