10 Ways to Deal with the Stress of Caregiving for an Ill Parent
Caregiving for a physically or mentally ill parent, while rewarding, can be very stressful — especially when you’re working and have a family at home.
It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, exhausted and alone. Even the most resilient caregivers can suffer from these symptoms of stress.
It’s important to address these symptoms of caregiver stress, as they can lead to long-term mental and physical problems — like depression, anxiety and heart disease, to name a few. They can also affect your performance as a caregiver.
Here are tips that can help you ease some of the stress, and make your role as a caregiver a little less taxing:
1. Tap into your network
When the demands of caregiving start to affect your own mental and/or physical health, it’s time to ask for help. The first place you can turn is your network of family and friends. Approach those you trust the most, and ask if there’s anything they’re willing to do.
Come into these conversations with a list of the things you’d like the most help with — such as taking your parent to the store, cleaning their home or cooking. Just finding someone to take one task off of your plate per week can make a huge difference in your mental health.
2. Take a look at your benefits
Ask your employer what family leave benefits are available to you.
If your company has at least 50 employees, and you’ve been there for a year, you likely have access to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA is a law that allows qualified individuals to take a leave from work for up to 12 weeks to care for a family member and have their job waiting for them when they return.
You may even have other leave available to you depending on the state or city you work in. It’s also possible your company offers more generous leave benefits above and beyond what the law requires.
3. Look at community resources
There’s a good chance there is at least one community organization who can help you in some way — whether it’s providing your parent with adult daycare services, a hot meal, transportation or companionship.
Some organizations and hospitals even offer free educational classes that may be able to help you better understand and deal with a health or mental condition your parent is facing. A quick online search or visit to the local library can help you find some of these resources.
4. Join a support group
You’re not alone, and just hearing what others are going through and how they’ve coped can help you be a better, more relaxed caregiver.
Support groups are great for introducing you to others who are experiencing hardships. As part of a group, you can not only learn a lot, but also help others by sharing your story. You may even forge life-long friendships.
Family Caregiver Alliance can help you find an online or in-person support group. You can even find local support groups with the help of state-specific sites — like this one for Delaware caregivers and this one for Pennsylvania caregivers.
5. Stay connected with your family/friends
Set aside time every week to spend time with your family and/or friends. Go out to dinner, go for a walk or just sit and chat with a loved one.
Getting your mind off of your caregiving responsibilities for a little while can do wonders for your mental health. It also keeps you connected to those who can offer you the most support.
6. Adopt healthy routines
Proper sleep and eating habits can be the first thing we abandon when faced with stress. To make sure you get enough sleep, set a time every night by which you’ll be in bed (and ditch electronics an hour before bed; they hurt your sleep).
Next, set healthy eating goals for yourself, so you’re not just eating convenient junk food. Keep fresh fruit and veggies around the house that you can just grab on the go. Find a water bottle that you don’t mind carrying around all the time to help keep yourself properly hydrated.
7. Consider temporary care
There may be times when you just can’t provide caregiving — like if you’re sick, away on business or have a family emergency.
When those times crop up, consider temporary in-home care services or adult care centers/programs. You may be able to arrange for short-term in-home care and have a health professional visit your parent for a specified period of time. You may even be able to place your parent in a short-term nursing home.
You could also seek help from a professional care manager, who can offer a customized combination of care planning and special needs services for caregivers.
8. Find out what your parent’s insurance will cover
Find out what kind of insurance your parent has, and then look into what exactly that insurance will pay for. It’s possible you may be able to afford help that you once thought was out of your reach. For example, Medicare and Medicaid may help cover the costs of some home care.
If you’re not comfortable with the ins and outs of insurance to conduct a thorough review of your parent’s coverage, find someone who is — maybe a family member, friend or neighbor. The benefits expert at your company can also be a good resource.
9. Get your parent a reliable phone
Just knowing you can pick up the phone and get in touch with your parent at any time (and vice versa) can be a big stress reliever, especially for long-distance caregivers. Having an easy way to communicate can make your parent seem closer and ease worries that when you’re away there’s less you can control.
If possible, get your parent a cell phone, enter emergency contact information into it, make sure they know how to use it and keep it charged. You could even teach them to send you a quick text message at the end of the day letting you know they’re OK.
10. Reward yourself … you deserve it
A sick parent may not always be able to say “thank you.” But it can be helpful to imagine what your parent would say if they could.
You can even look for ways to reward yourself for your caregiving efforts. Maybe spring for a fancy cup of coffee on the days you visit your parent, or give yourself more “me time” when you’re feeling stressed. Look for any small way you can pamper yourself.