When Flight Attendants go over safety instructions on an airplane, they tell parents that in the case of a loss of cabin pressure they should secure their own oxygen mask before securing those of their children. Are they implying that the children are less important than the parents? Of course not. The reality is that if a parent is unable to breathe, they will be of no use to their children. But if their lungs are full of oxygen, they will be able to think clearly and assist their children. The same is true for any caregiver. Caring for a loved one can be draining, exhausting, and extremely difficult. In those times of overwhelming stress, taking time for yourself might feel like being selfish; however, if you fail to care for yourself, you are no better off than if you refused the oxygen mask. Taking time to regain your strength and nurture your own well being is essential for you to remain healthy enough to provide care for another person.
There are numerous websites that offer support and advice for caregivers. Below are some recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association. However, these stress-reducing techniques are meant for everyone who is providing care to others, regardless of the type of care.
- Get moving-Physical activity, in any form, can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk. Do an activity you love, such as gardening or dancing.
- Make time for yourself-As a caregiver, it’s hard to find time for yourself, but staying connected to friends, family and activities that you love is important for your well-being. Even if it’s only 30 minutes a week, carve out a pocket of time just for yourself.
- Become an educated caregiver-As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The most up-to-date information might provide you with helpful tools and advice necessary to assist your loved one.
- Take care of yourself-Visit your doctor regularly. Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you stay healthy will help you be a better caregiver.
- Use relaxation techniques-There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress. Try more than one to find which works best for you. Techniques include: visualization (mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm), meditation (which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts), breathing exercises (slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths), or progressive muscle relaxation(tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end).
For more information on Caregiver Stress, feel free to visit the Alzheimer’s Association (https://www.alz.org/care/overview.asp) or the Family Caregiving Alliance (http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=847. Both are excellent resources for advice and support.
Alzheimer’s Association. (2014). Caregiver stress. Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-caregiver-stress-burnout.asp