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10 tips to stress less as a caregiver
Stress is one of the UK’s biggest health challenges, and yet many people don’t take it as seriously as physical health problems. This Stress Awareness Month, we want to help change this by providing practical advice to help you feel calmer and happier.
Did you know that 74% of adults have felt unable to cope in the past year, due to stress?
What is Stress?
Stress can cause physical changes in the body, these changes are designed to help us take on threats or challenges. You may notice that your heart pounds, your muscles tense, and your breathing quickens.
This response is referred to as fight or flight. These effects usually subside once the threat passes, however if you’re constantly stressed, your body will remain on high alert which can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.
Stress as a Caregiver
Caring for someone has many rewards, but it can also be stressful. When you’re looking after someone with complex needs or behaviours, feeling fatigued is almost inevitable.
Feeling powerless is the number one contributor to stress, and is something many carers have experienced at one time or another.
No matter the situation, you aren’t powerless and your actions are making a difference. This is especially true when it comes to your state of mind. If you’re currently caring for someone, here are some of our top tips to help you maintain a positive attitude and create a stress-free zone.
As a caregiver it’s likely you’ll often be under pressure. Meditation is a perfect solution to try as it’s free, can be done anywhere at any time, and is proven to reduce stress.
Studies have shown that meditation lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, and can even improve your ability to concentrate – which is crucial when caring for someone.
You don’t have to dedicate a lot of time to it – just a few minutes a day and you’ll reap the rewards. Activities such as yoga, bedtime meditation or even just closing your eyes and being with your thoughts for a few minutes are forms of meditation that you can try.
2. Breathing Techniques
Simply breathing deeply can be a brilliant coping mechanism when you’re facing moments of frustration, powerlessness, or anxiety.
It forces you to pause, calm down, and regain composure – meaning you can better deal with the situation with a clear mind. In the army, they use deep breathing techniques in combat to improve focus. If it works for them, it can definitely work for you.
The NHS has some useful breathing exercises to get you started, and apps like Headspace and Breath Ball can help you make the most of these techniques.
3. Reach out
Having a support system of family, friends or other care professionals to lean on is an effective way to reduce stress. Everyone needs to vent, hear a friendly voice, or take a break from responsibilities for a while.
Whether you connect in person, on the phone or online, it’s important to reach out to people who can listen, reassure, and help you feel better.
There’s actually science behind the old saying “if you don’t laugh then you’ll cry”. Laughter releases endorphins in the body, which lessen the negative effects of stress and pain.
Acknowledging funny moments while caregiving also helps to lighten the mood and reduce stress for both you and your care recipient.
Activities such as watching comedies, or playing games – such as Jenga or Operation – are sure to lighten the mood.
5. Listen to music
Scientists believe few things are as effective at stimulating the brain as music is, So, it won’t come as a surprise that music has been found to lift mood, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try playing your favorite tunes and having a dance.
Music therapy may also be good for the person you’re caring for, especially if they’re living with dementia, as it can spark memories and give the brain a good workout.
6. Accept that you can’t control everything
By caring for someone and helping them live their best possible life, you’re doing an incredible thing. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
You can only ever do your best. You can’t control their decisions, cure diseases, or stop them from aging. Negative things happen despite all our best efforts. Take comfort in the fact you’re doing everything you can.
7. Stay positive
Positivity is infectious and can also work wonders for your mental health. Repeating supportive and encouraging words to yourself can help calm and refocus your mind.
Another way to boost positivity is to create a routine. This leaves less room for errors and makes tasks feel more manageable. Setting personal goals is important too, as you’ll feel accomplished as you complete them.
8. Celebrate even the small victories.
Feeling discouraged is normal and happens to many of us, it’s important to keep in mind that every effort you make matters.
Never underestimate the power of making the person you’re caring for feel loved and safe. Restoring their confidence to do things such as walking, or playing a game together and making them smile in times of difficulty are victories that should always be recognised.
9. Do something fun
Taking breaks regularly and making time for yourself is a must when it comes to managing stress as a caregiver. Even if it’s as little as five minutes at a time, use it to do something that you enjoy. Listening to music, browsing the internet, reading or just sitting outside with a coffee…anything you like.
10. Embrace your caregiving choice
It’s important to acknowledge that, despite any resentments or burdens you feel, you’re making a positive impact on someone’s life by providing care. Focus on the positive reasons behind your choice.
Perhaps your decision to care comes from your own family experience. Perhaps it’s about learning from and cherishing time with the older generation, or maybe you’re caring for a parent to show gratitude for the way they looked after you in your younger years.
These deep, meaningful motivations can help sustain you through difficult times.
These ten points are only suggestions. It’s worth giving them a try to see whether they work for you. But remember, not everyone is the same. It’s important to find the coping mechanism that suits you best.
You may have already found a method of dealing with stress that has worked for you, that hasn’t made it onto our list. Anything we’ve missed? Let us know via our Facebook page.