Caring for the Caregiver – Where is the 5K run?
As National Family Caregiver Month draws to an end, I am struck by the paucity of community events to recognize the millions who dedicate countless hours and undying energy to caring for aging or ill parents. With the focus on the parent, who is the identified patient, many caregivers become the “hidden patient”*, suffering the physical and emotional toll of caregiving and poor self care. I hope this blog will help caregivers to acknowledge the complexity of their task, and identify and cope with symptoms of stress.
Caring for elderly parents is an expected act of loving kindness, and for many, it is indeed experienced as such. However, while caregiving can be rewarding, it is also quite demanding. Like holding the proverbial glass of water, which feels light at first, but seems heavier the longer we hold it, so too it can be with caring for a loved one with chronic needs. In fact, the concept of “caregiver burden” has been well studied. It refers to the physical, psychological, social, emotional and financial, problems experienced by those caring for impaired elderly family members. In an effort to provide the best care for their family, the caregiver often sacrifices her or his own needs, resulting not only in exhaustion, but feelings of anxiety, depression, and even anger and resentment. Sadly, for many it still seems just too taboo to share their feelings of anger and resentment, leaving them also feeling isolated and guilty. Admittedly, as I write the word “burden” relating to caregiving, as the daughter of aging parents, I feel a twinge of uneasiness, and am tempted to use a different descriptor. However, that would invalidate and delegitimize the very valid and legitimate feelings of so many caregivers.
While caregiving is a natural human interaction, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. The complexities of family dynamics, including family tensions, tend to be amplified during times of stress. It is a time to harness family resources and supports if available, or if lacking, to seek social or professional supports. Adequate self care is paramount. As we are instructed by the airlines, we must first securely place our own oxygen mask before doing so for another.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Stress:
· Anxiety, Depression, Irritability
· Decreased energy level
· Feeling Isolated
· Difficulty sleeping
· Feeling exhausted, even after a good night’s sleep
· You are totally focused on caregiving, yet you feel little satisfaction
· Neglecting your own needs because you are too busy or don’t make yourself a priority
Tips for Coping:
· Ask family and friends for assistance and be specific. Don’t assume they know what you need.
· Set aside time daily for YOU. Do something that brings you pleasure, whether it is reading, taking your dog for a walk, watching a favorite movie.
· Engage in physical activity for 20-30 minutes 4-5 times/week, whether going to the gym, riding your bike, going for a long brisk walk.
· Do yoga or meditate.
· Eat tasty and nourishing meals and snacks.
· Enjoy a good laugh. Watch a comedy, or call that friend with the good sense of humor.
· Try your best to achieve a sense of balance in your life.
· Find small ways to pamper yourself. You deserve it.
· Seek spiritual or professional counseling. Join a caregivers support group.
*The term “hidden patient” was coined in 1979 by Alfred P. Fengler and Nancy Goodrich, at the time referring to spouses of disabled elderly men.