Caregiving: How to Keep Calm and Carry On

CaregivingMay is Stroke Awareness Month.  When a stroke occurs, it impacts both the individual and the family. Family caregivers play an essential role in the post-stroke recovery process.

Caring for a family member who is a stroke survivor can be very stressful. Family caregivers often assume responsibility for additional and or changing roles and habits in the family unit.  This can impact family dynamics, disrupt household routines, add to financial pressures and increase workloads.  These changes can cause high levels of emotional, mental and physical stress. Due to caregiving stress and strain, caregivers of stroke survivors tend to have higher levels of depression than non-caregivers during both the acute and chronic phases of care.

While caregiving involves many stressors, it does not have to result in overwhelming caregiver stress and strain. Caregivers report that it is possible to have a balanced life. Some also report that the practice of caregiving has actually improved their lives. Read on for tips on how to decrease caregiver stress and strain and how to make caregiving a rewarding experience.

Ask for help and accept it when offered. Trying to take on all of the responsibilities as a caregiver without any assistance is a sure way to escalate caregiver strain. Enlist family or friends to help. Consider using Lotsa Helping Hands as an online toolbox to coordinate care and make life easier for you as a caregiver. Tools include an online calendar, which empowers members to schedule and sign up for tasks that can provide you respite. You can also post messages on the discussion boards, initiate personal blogs, share your photos and store your records and information.

Take care of yourself. Although providing care for a loved one may feel overwhelming, try to be aware of your own health and the ways stress may affect you. To mitigate caregiver stress and strain, try to get enough sleep, adopt healthy eating habits, attend to your own medical needs and exercise regularly. When you take care of yourself, you have the energy and the resilience to manage the demands of caregiving.

Get support. Getting yourself and your loved one support is necessary and beneficial for your care recipient as well as yourself. Consider joining a support group or participating in counseling.  Support group time provides you an opportunity to take a scheduled break from the day to day demands. You can learn more about Magee’s stroke caregiver support groups on our website. If you are unable to leave the house, consider joining an online caregiver support group. This will give you an opportunity to regroup and renew your energy for the tasks ahead. Talking with others who have “been there, done that” is a sure way to know you’re not alone in this experience.  Be sure to ask for help when you feel the need.

Practice acceptance. It is very easy to get frustrated when things are out of your control. Instead of stressing over things that you can’t control, focus on the way that you react to challenges. Is there any humor in the situation?  Consider how caregiving has made you a stronger individual or how caregiving allows you to share your love with your family member. As a caregiver, you live with purpose every day. Some say that is the definition of a meaningful life.

Try this simple exercise: Imagine you saw someone else providing all of the care and support that you provide to your loved one. How would you feel about that person? Admiring of their skills? In awe of their dedication? Compassionate for their feelings of weariness? Impressed by their love for their family member? Let yourself be aware that this is how others see you.

Caregiving is a very direct expression of competence, dedication and love. Remember to bring those same skills to your self-care, to power your ongoing caregiving.

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