While caring for your elderly loved ones can certainly be rewarding, it is not without its challenges. This burden of love, which often falls on the children of elderly parents, can cause detrimental stress for caregivers. This chronic stress can translate in a multitude of physical and psychological ways — depression, anxiety, anger, withdrawal, and other health problems can manifest as a result. According to a study, those living with caregiver strain have a 63% higher risk of mortality versus non-caregivers of the same age.
Moreover, the consequences of unchecked caregiver stress can extend far beyond the caregivers themselves. The physical and mental exhaustion it results in can have an unsafe and even deadly impact on the quality of care provided. If something happened to you, who would carry that burden? Ultimately, there is no one we, as children, trust to care for our senior parents more than ourselves. But it’s important to remember that you cannot serve from an empty vessel. To reduce caregiver stress and maintain the compassionate, quality care your parents deserve — you need to make caring for yourself just as much a priority as caring for them.
Here are some strategies to help you deal with the inevitable stress that comes with caring for your elderly parent:
You can do anything, but not everything
First and foremost, accept the reality that you cannot do it all. Moving forward with any of the suggestions we give requires you to work on truly accepting this fact. Allow yourself to become open to receiving support, reacting differently to certain situations, and avoid dwelling on the things that cannot be changed — like the health of the elderly parents you are caring for.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Caregiving can often seem like an endless stream of tiny frustrations. The build-up of these seemingly trivial aggravations can often be what contributes most to burn-out and caregiver stress. Learn to shrug it off and redirect your thoughts elsewhere; like reassuring yourself that you are doing the best you can.
Good order is a solid foundation
When it comes to caring for someone elderly, predictability is never guaranteed. Things happen. But while you can’t control everything, creating a daily routine will help your everyday tasks go more smoothly and seem much less overwhelming. Make lists, prioritize responsibilities, delegate what you can, and establish a regular routine that helps you stay on track. Don’t forget to include time for yourself. In addition to helping you carve out your days, this approach to caregiving makes it easier to be ready for unexpected emergencies.
Simplify your life by learning to say no
Allowing yourself to set healthy boundaries can seem difficult at first. This is especially true if you are always striving to meet people’s expectations. However, it is important to set limitations where needed for your mental and physical wellness. Learning to say “no” is a big step in the right direction. Turn down requests to host holiday dinners, opt-out of social obligations you feel required to attend, and stop going out of your way to accommodate everyone else’s needs except your own. When you do say “yes” to others, make sure it’s not at the price of saying “no” to yourself.
A little communication goes a long way
Not only will saying “no” to others come much easier, but maintaining open communication with your family and friends is good for your mental health. Make time to keep in touch with your social circle and don’t feel guilty about venting. Not only will it foster empathy, but caregivers need all the emotional support they can get. Carrying this monumental responsibility and not getting things off your chest can fester over time. Make use of your support system. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and more importantly, don’t be afraid to accept it.
To give the care you must take care
Caregivers often leave themselves at the end of their “to-do” lists. Do not deprive yourself of the same compassion you offer to your care recipients. Make your wellness and peace of mind just as essential. Go to your doctor’s appointments, be proactive about your mental health, take time to decompress, get active, do things that make you happy, and spend time with people who bring you joy. Do whatever you need to do that helps alleviate the pressures and strains that come with being a caregiver to elderly parents. Taking care of your body and mind is the best way to ensure you’re providing optimal care for those you love.
It is okay to ask for help
Understanding that this is not a burden you have to carry alone is one of the most important steps in coping with caregiver stress. As much as you love your parents, it is humanly impossible to do everything all of the time. If you have family or people within your social circle who are willing to help, learn to let go and trust.
On your own? If you aren’t quite ready for a nursing home, try incorporating regular respite as part of the care plan. Respite care provides a much-needed break for caregivers by taking on the caregiving duties for a short period of time. Whether a full day or just an afternoon, caregivers get a short relief from their seemingly overwhelming responsibilities — all with the peace of mind of knowing their loved ones are under the care of professional caretakers.
Caregiving for your elderly parents, albeit challenging, does not have to be the heaviest burden you carry. Take the actions necessary to relieve some of the weight off your shoulders. Lean into the mental shift that allows you to open up to approach caregiving and the rest of your life in a new way. Once you do, you will find that regaining your sense of independence, tranquility, and well-being is not only possible but vital in providing the best care you can. Author and caregiver advocate, Peter Rosenberger, put it perfectly when he said, “Healthy caregivers make the best caregivers.”
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