Recognise warning signs early. These might include irritability, sleep problems and forgetfulness. Know your own warning signs and act to make changes. Don't wait until you are overwhelmed. Identify sources of stress. Ask yourself, "What is causing stress for me?" Sources of stress might be that you have too much to do, family disagreements, feelings of inadequacy or the inability to say no.
Identify what you can and cannot change. Remember, we can only change ourselves; we cannot change another person. When you try to change things that you have no control over, you will only increase your sense of frustration. Ask yourself, "What do I have some control over? What can I change?" Even a small change can make a big difference.
Take action. Taking some action to reduce stress gives us back a sense of control. Stress reducers can be simple activities like walking and other forms of exercise, gardening, meditation or having coffee with a friend. Identify some stress reducers that work for you.
Reducing Personal Stress
How we see and respond to an event is a significant factor in how we adjust and cope with it. The stress you feel is not only the result of your care giving situation but also the result of your perception of it—whether you see the glass as half-full or half-empty. It is important to remember that you are not alone in your experiences.
Your level of stress is influenced by many factors, including the following:
- Whether your care giving is voluntary. If you feel you had no choice in taking on the responsibilities, the chances are that you will experience strain, distress, and resentment.
- Your relationship with the care recipient. Sometimes people care for another with the hope of healing a relationship. If healing does not occur, you may feel regret and discouragement.
- How you coped with stress in the past predicts how you will cope now. Identify your current coping strengths so that you can build on them.
- Some care giving situations are more stressful than others. For example, caring for a person with dementia is often more stressful than caring for someone with a physical limitation.
- Whether or not support is available.
Setting goals or deciding what you would like to do in the next three to six months is an important tool for taking care of yourself. Here are some sample goals you might set:
- Take a break from care giving.
- Get help with care giving tasks like bathing and preparing meals.
- Engage in activities that will make you feel healthier.
Goals are generally too big to work on all at once. You are more likely to reach a goal if you break it down into smaller action steps. Once you've set a goal, ask yourself, "What steps do I take to reach my goal?" Make a plan. Decide which step you will take first, and when. Then get started!
Example (Goal and Action Steps): Goal: Feel healthier. Possible action steps:
- Make an appointment for a check-up with your GP.
- Take a half-hour break once during the week.
- Walk three times a week for 10 minutes.
Looking for Solutions
Looking for solutions to difficult situations is, one of the most important tools in care giving. Once you've named a problem, taking action to solve it can change the situation and also change your attitude to a more positive one, giving you more confidence in your abilities.
Steps to take when looking for solutions
Identify the problem. Look at the situation with an open mind. The real problem might not be what first comes to mind. For example, you think that the problem simply is that you are tired all the time, when the more basic difficulty is your belief that "no one can care for John like I can." The problem? Thinking that you have to do everything yourself.
- List possible solutions. One idea is to try a different perspective: "Even though someone else provides help to John in a different way than I do, it can be just as good." Ask a friend to help.
- Ask about agencies in your area that could help provide care.
- Select one solution from the list. Then try it!
- Evaluate the results. Ask yourself how well your choice worked.
- Try a second solution. If your first idea didn't work, select another. But don't give up on the first; sometimes an idea just needs fine tuning.
- Use other resources. Ask friends, family members and professionals for suggestions.
- If nothing seems to help, accept that the problem may not be solvable now. You can revisit it at another time.
Often we jump from step one to step seven and then feel defeated and stuck. Concentrate on keeping an open mind while listing and experimenting with possible solutions.
Everyone experiences loss during life. However, for carers many of the changes and losses experienced come quickly and can lead to feelings of grief. Other people may understand that you feel grief for the person who has died but they may not realise that you can also feel the loss of not being a carer anymore. Bereavement counseling offers the opportunity to explore, understand and work through feelings of grief. Although everyone's personal reaction to a bereavement is different, most people experience some of the following emotional responses when someone close to them dies such as disbelief, shock, anger, sadness, relief, guilt, depression, anxiety, despair, longing and loneliness. Carer support groups can also offer different types of support. Your general practitioner or local health office can provide advice on supports available in your area. Click here for information available on Bereavement Counseling.
Check out the voluntary organisations providing helplines, supports and services for older people and their carers.