Caregiver stress is a real thing, and while it carries a lot of the similar symptoms of regular stress from a job or other situation—it can be worse because it also combines with grief, pressure, and all of the worry that comes with aging parents.
The adult children or relatives of elderly parents feel a whole new realm of stress by taking on an unexpected caregiver role. But self-care, support groups, and other stress-relieving activities can help mitigate the effects of caregiver stress. We put together some tips to help feel less stressed and be more helpful to your elderly parents when they need it most.
How to Manage the Stress of Being a Caregiver
The first thing you need to know about feeling stressed about caring for your elderly parent is that it is 100% okay and normal to feel this way. Give yourself permission to feel stressed because this is one of the hardest things anyone should have to do. Burying stress rather than embracing it and taking care of it when you need to can lead to caregiver burnout, or worse.
Some of the ways family caregivers can manage their stress include:
1 – Join a Support Group
Talking to other caregivers who are in similar situations can be helpful. They get it, and you can vent to them about the day-to-day challenges you’re facing. Many support groups exist both online and in-person so you can always get the support you need. Some great online support groups include:
- The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
- Caregiver Action Network
- Working Daughter
- Family Caregiver Alliance
- Parent to Parent USA
- National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Family Support Groups
All of those groups are specifically designed to offer family caregivers manage their mental health and stress while caring for an elderly parent or relative. Conversing with people in similar situations can help alleviate some of the loneliness and depressive symptoms that come with caregiver burnout and stress.
2 – Don’t Feel Guilty
When a parent gets older or suddenly requires medical care and more attention from you, it’s ok to feel your feelings—especially if this isn’t something you were expecting. Feelings of guilt are common for caregivers, but try not to dwell on them too much. You’re doing the best you can in a difficult situation, so cut yourself some slack.
3 – Set Boundaries
While you may want to drop everything to care for your loved one, that can and will quickly take a toll on your life. If you work another job, have your own family, and have other life things to handle; you will burn out immediately if you don’t make boundaries for caregiving for your aging parent.
You can set times where you check on them regularly, split duties with siblings or other family members, and ensure their nurse or assisted living facility only calls for emergencies. These boundaries can help ensure your mental health and well-being stay intact so that you can be there for your loved one.
4 – Know When to Ask for Help
This is one of the hardest things for caregivers to do, but it may be necessary at some point. If you’re struggling to keep up with work, appointments, family life, and caring for your parent—it may be time to ask for help from a professional or home health aid.
Doing just these four things is vital for adult children caring for their aging parents. Most of you never asked to have such a role, and even if you saw it coming, it can be a shock and is a major lifestyle adjustment. So managing that stress is essential to not only keeping your own well-being in check but the well-being of the loved one you’re watching over.
How to Alleviate Stress (8 More Tips)
Helping manage the stress that comes with caregiving is one thing, but if you aren’t taking care of yourself and your stress outside of that, it will make it even harder. Many caregivers are doing so while also managing their own life, a full-time job, their families, and all the other things that life brings our way. So here are some helpful tips for managing stress to make taking care of elderly parents a little less emotionally draining.
5 – Stay Physically Active
Working out not only releases endorphins that can make you feel good but can also help reduce stress. Taking a break to go on a walk, run, or to the gym can help you come back feeling refreshed and less stressed about everything else going on in your life.
Sometimes being a caretaker can be really taxing and time-consuming, so making even 10-15 minutes a day to do something active like a walk around the block can be vital to getting your blood flowing and endorphins released.
6 – Drink Plenty of Water
Water is essential for our bodies to function but can also help improve our mood and mental state. When we’re dehydrated, we can get headaches, feel fatigued, and even be in a bad mood. This can make the job of caretaking even more difficult.
Drinking lots of water is key to not only keeping our bodies healthy but also managing stress levels. If you find yourself getting tense or feeling overwhelmed, try drinking a glass of water and see if that helps calm you down.
7 – Eat a Balanced Diet
In addition to drinking enough water, eating a balanced diet can actually prevent symptoms of fatigue, depression, anxiety, and more. B vitamins are essential for boosting mood, brain health, and are often called the “anti-stress supplement”.
Where can you get vitamin B?
- Whole grains
You can always take a daily supplement as well. And while you’re at it, make sure you get plenty of vitamin A, C, and D which help boost your immune system. This can make that you stay healthy while caring for older individuals who may not have the immune systems they once did.
8 – Get a Good Night’s Sleep
This one can be hard to come by but is so important for managing stress. When we’re tired, our moods are off, we’re more likely to make mistakes, and our cognitive function isn’t as sharp.
So if you find yourself feeling stressed during the day, try to get to bed earlier that night and see if that helps. And if you exercise, drink water, and eat healthily—good sleep can occur as a snowball effect. All of these good things you do for your body all work together.
9 – See a Therapist
While your physical health is clearly something that can help manage stress and better your mental health overall—therapy can help take care of the mental health issues like depression, grief, self-doubt, etc. All of these feelings can come flooding in when we are putting all of our eggs into one basket when caring for an aging parent.
A therapist can help you navigate the struggles that come with dealing with grief and the various mental gymnastics you have to go through when acting as a caretaker for a loved one. You won’t be able to help anyone if you are pouring from an empty cup, so to speak. So seeking therapy can be very effective for people who are caretakers but also, in general, to help manage the stresses of life.
10 – Talk to and Hang Out With Friends
This one is vital and is something that many people forget to do when they’re bogged down with work, family, and other obligations. When we feel overwhelmed, it can be easy to just hole up and not want to see anyone but that will only make you feel worse in the long run.
Making time for friends and family is essential to maintaining your own life even while you’re caring for someone else’s. Friends can be a form of therapy as well, whether you do or don’t vent about the caretaking struggles you’re experiencing. They can just be there to be uplifting.
11 – Maintain a Daily Routine
This is another important one for managing stress. When we have a daily routine, it can help us feel more in control and less chaotic. This can be anything from taking a shower and getting dressed first thing in the morning to working out every other day or taking some time each night to read before bed. Having a daily routine can help organize your thoughts and maintain a level balance of stress so when things come up they’re less likely to derail everything else.
12 – Don’t Sacrifice Your Own Needs
While you are caretaking for a loved one, it can be easy to want to put your wants and needs on the backburner. But that’s how you experience severe caretaker burnout, guilt, and stress. This goes hand in hand with self-care and setting those boundaries needed to protect yourself.
You need to be able to take care of yourself first in order to be able to properly take care of someone else. And that doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you a human being who needs time, attention, and love. So don’t forget about your needs while you’re caring for another—it’s essential to your well-being.
Outsourcing Critical Caregiver Roles
This one is a big one and can be difficult to do but can make all the difference. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the caretaking role, it’s important to outsource some of those critical roles to someone else who can help.
There are in-home health aides that can come in and help with things like bathing, dressing, and grooming. There are also Meals on Wheels programs that can deliver hot meals to your door so you don’t have to worry about cooking. And there are plenty of other services out there that can help with things like transportation, errands, and even just providing some respite care so you can take a break.
When the time comes to get a full-time care team to help your loved one, lean on Sunflower Communities. Our dedicated team of caregivers focuses on memory care and round-the-clock attentiveness that your aging parent needs. We can maintain open, clear communication with you throughout their time with us so you can feel supported and not replaced. Reach out to us today for more information.