According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, in the US alone, more than 43 million people provided unpaid care for an adult or child over the past year. More than 34 million cared for a loved one over the age of 50. Many of those who are caring for young children or disabled or chronically ill family members, are spending as much as 25 hours a week on average taking care of the needs of their dependent loved one. Around 75% of the unpaid caregivers currently are women. For these caregivers, chronic stress is a growing concern. And it is common for them to experience the symptoms that come as a result of chronic stress. For this group, stress management must be a priority!
The top health complaints commonly experienced by unpaid caregivers include:
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Neglect of their own emotional and physical needs
- Feeling overwhelmed or trapped
- Weight gain or loss
- Eating too much or not enough
- Withdrawing from activities that they once enjoyed
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling depressed or anxious
- Becoming impatient, moody or irritable
- Struggle to cope with daily life
- Digestive issues
- Body pain
- Get colds or flu more often
As a health practitioner, you will encounter caregivers who are struggling under the weight of chronic stress. And it is important to recognize the challenges that they face. It is also important to understand how those challenges contributes to their overall stress. Understanding that will help you to have a plan in place to help them better manage their stress so that they can begin reversing their own health issues.
Recognizing the challenges of a caregiver
When a person is left to be a primary caregiver to a family member, there are a great many challenges that they face. Caregivers face daily tasks such as grocery shopping, paying bills, feeding, giving medication to, dressing and bathing their love one. Some of these tasks may be physically demanding. But there can be additional emotional demands that come from financial pressures, changing roles and family dynamics and a general disruption of daily life.
If the caregiver is faced with caring for a loved one with a serious illness such as dementia then they may face other emotions such as fear, sadness or anxiety as they watching their loved one slip away.
Stress Management Strategies for Caregivers
It is important for you as a practitioner to have some tips and tricks in your toolbox that can specifically help those caregiver clients that have come to you to restore their own health. Finding healthy ways to help them manage their own stress while they continue to be a caregiver is one of the best ways to help them stay healthy enough to continue providing care for their loved one.
It is okay for them to accept help
Encourage them to write down some ways that others can help them. Many feel like they have to carry the burden alone and don’t ask for help. But there may be others who are willing to come and sit with their loved one for a while so that they can take a break, or who may be willing to make or bring a meal or pick up some groceries. Accepting help does not mean that they are a bad caregiver, it means that they are human and that it’s too much to do alone.
Overwhelm for caregivers is a huge problem. Writing down a list of the things that need to be done regularly and then prioritizing can help to reduce the overwhelm. Suggest that they look for tasks that can be delegated to other family members or close friends.
Teaching them the word “no”
Caregivers often feel guilty about saying no when others ask them to do things for them. It is okay for them to say no when asked to do something that would drain them even further, such as hosting a meal. Encourage them to honor themselves and how they are really feeling by saying no to the things that are too physically or emotionally taxing for them.
Taking time away from the person they are caring for
It is vital for caregivers to get away from the responsibility of care-giving for a while. This allows them to take a break from the stress and emotion that comes with caring for their loved one. It also gives them time to reconnect with themselves. Encourage them to spend time with friends, do something to pamper themselves or pursuit a hobby. Whether it is for just a few hours or for a few days, having that needed time away from the daily stress of caring for their loved one can do a lot to help lower their stress level and recharge their batteries.
Make stress management a priority!
It is important to help clients understand exactly how important it is for them to find time to practice stress management each day. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, spending some time in nature and EFT are just a few of the things that they can do to help relieve stress daily that you can recommend.
The importance of taking care of themselves
While they are busy taking care of their loved one, it is also important that they take care of themselves! Basic health necessities such as eating nutrient rich foods, getting exercise and helping them sleep well will all help them to fight stress and be healthy.
Find a support group or therapist
It can be a powerful tool to have either a support group or a good therapist to share some of the emotional struggles of caring for their loved one. Being a caregiver often means facing moments where they find themselves facing unexpected emotions such as being angry at their loved one for having to care for them or feeling guilty because they wish that they didn’t have to care for them.
These feelings can bring a sense of shame and increase stress. But they are not uncommon. Having a safe place to express those emotions with others who understand, can go a long way towards relieving unwanted stress. Encourage them to connect with a support group or a good therapist that can allow them to release some of those pent up emotions. That can help them on the road to lowering stress levels!
These are just a few tips that can help you provide a little extra support for those clients who may be facing the extra burden of being a caregiver. You will undoubtedly face clients who are dealing with this challenge and it is important for their healing to understand the additional challenges that they face.
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