Reducing the Stress of Caregiving
More than 65 million Americans currently act as unpaid caregivers for a member of their family. Almost half of those family caregivers are also raising their own children at the same time as they care for an older adult. And studies have shown that more than one in six working Americans are caregivers for a family member.
When the stresses of work, family, and caregiving collide, it can seem like a perfect storm for the caregiver at the center of it all. The result? Research has shown that family caregivers have an increased risk of mental health issues. They are twice as likely to experience depression, and many report feeling isolated. One in ten family caregivers say they feel they have no one to talk to about private matters, and one in five feel they have no one they can ask for help. Caregivers are also at risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and dependency on drugs or alcohol.
But these are not inevitable outcomes for those who volunteer to take care of a loved one who needs their help – there are steps you can take to better manage the stress that comes with your caregiving obligations. Now is a great time to take a step back and think about ways to make your caregiving role less overwhelming and more rewarding. Read on for tips and strategies to help you recharge as you reaffirm your commitment to caring for your loved one.
Work it Out
A significant source of stress for many family caregivers comes from trying to manage their caregiving responsibilities and their career at the same time. Seventy percent of working caregivers have reported difficulties with their place of employment related to their caregiving role, and nearly the same amount have had to rearrange their work schedules, take unpaid leave or reduce their work hours due to their caregiving responsibilities. Typically, those who try to balance both of these competing obligations feel the need to keep them entirely separate from each other, as if they can co-exist equally in independent realms. The truth is, these caregivers never feel like they manage either particularly well, which increases their stress level even more.
So maybe it’s time to stop pretending that one doesn’t influence the other – reduce your stress by being transparent with your employer about your caregiving responsibilities and explaining how those responsibilities affect your work. Talk to them about trying a more flexible work schedule, remote work, or a compressed workweek. And be ready to offer your own solutions – make it easy for your supervisor to approve your well-thought-out request rather than asking them to come up with their own solution. Ask your employer if they provide elder care services in their employee benefit program. And if they offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), take advantage of it. They can provide valuable resources to help you with financial planning, legal matters, and mental health support.
Care Smarter, Not Harder
There are many low- or no-cost ways for you to maximize your time while providing the same level of help and support to your loved one.
If your loved one is living in a skilled nursing facility, talk to the facility staff about resources they may provide that will help your loved one get the care they need even when you aren’t around. For example, if your loved one is dependent upon you to take them out of the facility for regular preventative care like dental check-ups, hearing exams, and vision screenings, talk to the staff about whether that care can be provided by bringing those specialists on-site instead. And inquire about what sort of telehealth services they may offer – with today’s technology, you may be able to connect directly with your loved one’s care team whenever necessary, without requiring a trip to the skilled nursing facility.
Don’t Lose Yourself
Finally, it may be easier said than done, but don’t let your caregiving role become your sole identity.Continue to pursue interests and passions that matter to you, and remind yourself often that it’s OK to step out of your caregiver role to enjoy the things in your life that make you unique. You are not just an extension of your loved one – the care you give is just one facet of what makes you special.