Caring for an older adult can be rewarding, but stress is part of the challenging job. If left unchecked, stress can lead to burnout, aka physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Effects of stress include headaches, loss of focus, decreased appetite, and increased frustration. Balance is key in finding a way to meet your needs and the needs of others. While there's no one right way to manage caregiver stress, it starts with self-care, eating right, and rest. Read on for eight more tools to keep in your stress-handling toolbox.
"Just breathe" seems like stupid advice, especially since not breathing isn't an option, but the effects of deep, slow, controlled, mindful, steady breathing can be surprising. Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body's 'fight-or-flight' (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management.
Relax and recenter with diaphragmatic breathing (aka abdominal breathing or belly breathing). Start by inhaling through your nose, filling your belly with breath. Then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat as necessary. The free mobile app, Breathe2Relax can help guide you through breathing exercises.
Along these same lines, meditation is a free, efficient way of reducing stress and anxiety no matter where you are. Meditation quiets the "monkey mind," as it's referred to by Zen Buddhists, otherwise known as the thoughts that are constantly running through your head. To get started, check out our article on Benefits Of Mindful Meditation For Older Adults - And How To Get Started. Download the Calm app for a guided meditation on the go.
Sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch are built-in stress relievers. Speedy and reliable, your senses are immediately accessible. Listen to soothing music, watch a funny movie, light a scented candle, eat some chocolate, hug someone.
Have you ever written out an angry letter, only to toss it out or delete it? The effects of actually sending the letter are the same because you got your feelings out. Keeping a journal can help relieve stress and anxiety because writing helps focus the mind. Record what you're stressed about; jot down what you're grateful for; make a to-do list. The point is to get whatever is buzzing around your brain out and on paper.
We don't have to explain the merits of massage therapy. The most common areas we tend to hold stress are in the neck, shoulders, hips, hands, and feet. So get those tense muscles to the masseuse for a little TLC. Failing that, you can do a little DIY massage using a foam roller or massage therapy balls (tennis balls work too) to get out the kinks. Once you've gotten out the knots, make sure to drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
Physical activity and exercise produce endorphins, the same magic brain chemical that's at work when you meditate, get a massage, or practice deep breathing. These natural painkillers relieve tension, boost your mood, improve physical and mental health, and can lead to better sleep.
Using a combination of physical poses, controlled breathing, and relaxation, yoga is widely used for stress reduction. According to the Mayo Clinic, the mind-body practice "may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and lower your heart rate". Join an instructor-led yoga class, or start your own at-home practice. YouTube has a ton of yoga videos--Yoga with Adriene's Yoga for Stress Management is a good place to start.
Expressing what you're going through can be very cathartic. Connecting with supportive people is another good way to manage stress. Support groups provide a place to vent your frustrations to people who are facing similar situations. Members might have some invaluable knowledge that can help, or they might just listen and provide emotional support, but at the very least, you will know that you aren't alone. Many organizations, from hospitals to healthcare plans, offer support groups for caregivers. If you are unable to arrange for a substitute caregiver or travel for support face-to-face, there's always online support groups. Start with our list of Facebook Support Groups for Caregivers.
Between doctor's visits, getting scripts filled, paying the bills, getting groceries, cooking, and running errands, you deserve a break, baby! Delegate: Ask a family member or friend to bring over a hot meal, pick up the dry cleaning, or sit in for you for a bit. People want to help, but they can't read your mind. If someone does offer, say a ride to the hairdresser, accept it! If there are funds available, you can hire someone else to provide in-home services or look respite care like adult daycare centers.