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Caring for the hospice caregiver

It's important for caregivers to alleviate the stress of caregiving.

By Terre Mirsch

Caring for a loved one is a 24-hour job that leaves many feeling pressured and stressed. Too few hours in the day make it difficult to handle life’s conflicting priorities—caring for a loved one while meeting the expectations of an employer and a household, including other family members. The “to do” list goes on and on, and seems to include everything and everyone other than you. Unplanned expenses may cause additional burdens. Sleeplessness may add to your frustrations and anxieties, making you feel irritable and even angry at times. You may find yourself becoming resentful and short-tempered with your loved one who may, at times, seem less than grateful for your efforts as caregiving demands increase. Anger and irritability is often followed by feelings of guilt or shame for having these feelings.

You are not alone.

Caregiving is difficult. Recognizing the need for a break from the daily tasks and emotions of caregiving is essential for your own health and well-being, as well as the well-being of your loved one. Too often, this is the one task that is neglected.

The following tips can assist you in relieving caregiver stress:

  • Put your health first. Because caregiving can be physically and emotionally draining, it is important to allow time for rest and to focus on basic needs such as nutrition and exercise. These preventative measures include getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, and avoiding caffeine and excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Take time for yourself at least once a day to do something that is about you. Take a walk, a nap, or a soothing bath. Read a book or magazine. Journal your thoughts and feelings. Work in the garden. Take part in or develop personal hobbies.
  • Use stress prevention methods by pacing activities and tasks, and using meditation methods or other complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology, energy therapies, aromatherapy, yoga, or music.
  • Speak up. Do not hesitate to ask for or accept help from family, friends, volunteers, or professionals who can provide support to your loved ones while you take a much-needed break. Even short periods of respite can refresh our spirit and enable us to continue through the remainder of our day.
  • Explore local resources or agencies that provide support. Hospice or home care agencies, your local area on aging, private duty support agencies, local churches, or other groups may be able to provide nursing, companion, or volunteer services. Local agencies may also conduct caregiver support groups where you may get helpful suggestions and much-needed support from others in a similar situation.
  • Don’t take your loved one’s frustrations and complaints personally. Living with illness is hard. It is common to “lash out” at those we love and trust in order to release frustrations and fears. Remember, your loved one is angry with the situation and illness—not with you.
  • Understand what you can and what you cannot control. Accept that you cannot control your loved one’s illness. Understand that as a caregiver there are going to be days that are more emotionally and physically demanding than others. Be gentle with yourself and others.
  • Smile. Caregiving is not an easy task, but laughter is strong medicine. Having a sense of humor is important to keep things in perspective and to help you start each day with a fresh outlook.

In the event of an airplane flight emergency, we are taught to always put our own oxygen mask on first—before assisting loved ones and others. The same applies to caregiving: care for yourself first so that you can optimally care for those you love.

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