Caregiver Stress: A World Turned Upside Down

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life…that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."Ralph Waldo Emerson

Caregiver stress is on the rise, based on the latest information from the Stress in America report. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, so will the number of elderly family members be cared for at home. In fact, the number is expected to double by 2030, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Caregivers are true heroes that go unnoticed Due to great stress, they are at risk for great chronic stress due to lack of self care.

Caregiver exhaustion is not uncommon. I have a close friend whose mother has end stage cancer. Anne is traveling every weekend to be at her mother’s side. Driving, sitting, caring for her mom all day has taken a toll on her body. Anne made sure she took time for herself this week to get a pain relief massage. “I had to get my massage today. I wouldn’t be able to help mom if I don’t take care of me.”

A huge concern with caregivers is self-care, including basics like food, water, sleep and personal time. The fact of the matter is that the caregiver must care for themselves first. It’s just like an airplane emergency. It’s no different than putting an oxygen mask in first before you place it on others.

When my father became ill with dementia, mom was overwhelmed with the new responsibilities. Through local aging programs, dad was able to attend an adult day care. A nursing school provided students an internship to work in homes for respite. This allowed mom personal time to rest and catch up on errands. Their church provided home visits for spiritual support. Mom also attended a caregiver support group to be with others going though the same stress. All of this incredible support was in a very small community.

Keep in close contact with others when under stress can caring for a loved one. Danger signs of isolation include thinking you are all alone and don’t have choices in taking care of yourself. Keep in touch with others that are going through the same stress, especially when you are caring for someone for any length of time.

Everyone deals with grief differently. Caring for a loved one with any illness can definitely be hard emotionally. I learned to cherish the moments when dad was lucid. He used to always ask me if I had taken care of things around my house. I began to look forward to him asking me questions when I used to dread getting chewed out if I hadn’t done something. I learned to appreciate every moment I had my father. This helped ease grieving the loss of my father to dementia when he was still alive.

Remember, you are not alone. There are thousands of others going through the same stress. Reach out when you need love and support to cope.

For over 25 years in the health care profession, Lisa Birnesser has studied stress relief techniques and have helped hundreds of people reduce stress in their lives. Lisa specializes in stress management coaching by helping people do what matters most every day.