Anyone who has been a family caregiver knows that it can be a very stressful role. While the rewards of caring for a loved one can be great, living with chronic stress often takes a serious toll on the caregiver’s personal health. Because the symptoms develop slowly over time, however, a caregiver might not recognize how stressed they really are.

A few common symptoms of caregiver stress include insomnia, headaches, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and fatigue. Living with stress for a prolonged period of time can lead to health risks like high blood pressure and depression.

In honor of Stress Awareness Month in April, here are six ways you can manage caregiver stress.

Managing the Stress of Caregiving

1. Develop healthy sleep habits

Caregivers often struggle with insomnia. It is a common side effect of the anxiety so closely associated with caregiving. Developing healthy sleep habits can help you manage this troubling symptom.

  • Adhere to a consistent sleep schedule. It helps to go to bed at the same time each night and rise each morning at the same time.
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom, including tablets and a television.
  • Keep the bedroom dark and quiet. If you need to play soft music to help you fall asleep, use a sleep timer that turns the music off to prevent it from disrupting your sleep quality.
  • Avoid exercising, eating heavy meals, and drinking alcohol at least two hours before bedtime.

2. Limit caffeine intake

When you are tired and stressed, it’s easy to reach for a caffeine-infused energy drink or an extra-large cup of coffee. The temporary jolt these beverages provide can help you keep going. Unfortunately, the added caffeine can make stress worse and leave you feeling even wearier when it wears off.

Try to gradually decrease your caffeine intake to just one or two beverages a day. Opt for healthier drinks instead, such as water or white, green, or hibiscus tea.

3. Get regular physical exercise

Caregiving may leave you feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Finding the motivation to exercise can, understandably, be a challenge. But research shows that exercise helps to reduce stress and boost mood. That can help improve your stamina.

Joining a yoga studio or other local fitness club will give you an opportunity to get out of the house and away from caregiving a few times a week. When that isn’t possible, you can exercise in the privacy of your own home. A recumbent bike or treadmill might be good ways to get started. Go4Life from the National Institute on Aging has plenty of resources and tools you can use to safely stay fit at home.

4. Ask for and accept help

Caregivers are somewhat notorious for not asking for or accepting help. They often feel duty-bound to care for a senior loved one on their own. But the reality is that no one can do it all. Taking regular breaks makes you a better caregiver.

If you don’t have anyone who can pitch in, consider exploring respite care services near you. Assisted living communities typically offer short-term respite stays to give caregivers an opportunity to rest and renew their own health.

5. Practice mindfulness

Something as simple as slowing down and completing deep breathing exercises can help you relax and manage caregiver stress. Yoga and pilates are two forms of exercise that teach better breathing techniques.

Mental health professionals also say a process known as “grounding” can be beneficial when caregivers find themselves feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. To practice grounding, set aside time each day to sit still for a few minutes and focus on a single point in the room. Keep your attention focused on that point while slowly breathing in and out.

6. Stay connected

The demands of caring for a loved one often leave caregivers with little time for socializing. Enjoying a few hours out with a friend, however, can be just what an overwhelmed caregiver needs to relax and wind down.

If there isn’t another member of the family available to stay with your senior loved one, investigate other options. Some churches and synagogues have friendly visitor programs with volunteers who sit with homebound seniors for a few hours a week. Another option is to call your local agency on aging. Most maintain a list of nearby in-home caregivers.

We hope these suggestions help you manage the stress of caregiving and find a healthy balance in life. If you have questions about caregiving, assisted living, or other aging issues, we invite you to contact the Sunrise Senior Living community nearest you. One of our team members will be happy to help.


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