Are stress and anxiety the same thing? No, but they are related and can have similar ill effects on the mind and body. According to the AARP, “stress is any demand placed on your brain or physical body. People can report feeling stressed when multiple competing demands are placed on them.” The AARP defines anxiety as “a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. It can be a reaction to stress, or it can occur in people who are unable to identify stressors in their life.”
Family caregivers are at high-risk for stress and anxiety. The huge responsibility of caring for a senior loved one requires both physical and mental effort, often accompanied by the fear of making a mistake.
Symptoms and Health Issues
Here are some symptoms of stress and anxiety:
- Rapid breathing
- Panic or nervousness
- Fast heartbeat
- A change in appetite
Stress and anxiety over extended periods of time may result in serious physical and emotional health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and panic disorder.
If family caregivers find that stress and anxiety begin interfering with daily life due to constant worry, irrational fears, and a sense of failure, it is time to find ways to manage the stressors and resultant caregiver anxiety.
How to Manage Caregiver Anxiety
1. Get Help
Family caregivers are prone to take on too much responsibility and then have a difficult time asking for or accepting help when it’s offered.
Friends, relatives, or professional home health care personnel can take some of the responsibility off the shoulders of a family caregiver. With this support, the family caregiver doesn’t have to take the senior adult to every doctor’s appointment and do all the housework and yardwork. He or she doesn’t need to prepare all meals or suffer through the worry of managing all of the senior’s multiple medications.
2. Take Care of Yourself
Family caregivers frequently forget that they have to take care of themselves. This not only adversely affects the caregiver’s wellbeing, but it also adversely affects the care being provided to the senior.
To help deal with these issues, eat a healthy diet, and take time to exercise on a regular basis. If you can’t find a solid 30 minutes to exercise, do three ten-minute sessions. Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation slows you mentally as well as physically, and it can lead to serious health problems.
A mental and emotional aspect of self-care exists as well. Here are a few suggestions to “lighten the load:”
- Don’t forget to laugh
- Write down positive things that happen
- Take guilt-free breaks
- Remain socially connected
- Schedule in something you like to do each day
- Share thoughts and feelings with someone close
Family caregivers could also schedule breaks while friends or relatives stay with Mom or Dad. They could use the time to do something fun or relaxing or something they have neglected to do which continues to bother them.
Professional respite care services can be hired for a few hours, days, or even weeks, including during special holidays. These organizations provide medical supervision and companionship for seniors in their homes or in a senior living community. In fact, the social opportunities and activities in respite care at a senior living community may refresh Mom and Dad as well.
3. Balance Your Expectations
As a caregiver, you must be honest with yourself and realize that you cannot control every situation. As your senior’s needs increase with age, more challenges will present themselves. Monitor yourself for the symptoms listed above. Also, it might be helpful to gain the perspective of a friend or family member who has been in the home and observed the effects on you.
You need to determine if the balance between your self-expectations and what is realistic is now tipped too far into an unhealthy state—one that has caused you to suffer along with other responsibilities, including the relationship with your spouse and children.
Don’t beat yourself up. Review the good things you have done. You have made a positive difference in the life of a senior loved one. Step back and re-evaluate what is achievable.
4. Get Organized
As a caregiver, you feel like you are responsible for a million details— pills, spills, ills, bills, refills—and many more things to do, organize, and schedule. Your mind fills up, and you are forgetting things. To combat the resulting caregiver anxiety, get organized. If you are a paper-and-pen person, create a binder with medical information, appointments, errands, and a calendar of what comes next.
If you are a little more “techy,” Mashable provides a list of “10 Daily Apps to Help Caregivers Take Care of their Loved One.”
In addition, the AARP Resources Caregivers Should Know page provides links to numerous services and resources for family caregivers.
5. Seek Out Other Family Caregivers or Professionals
There are many online forums where caregivers not only share their stories but provide valuable insight into how to get better organized and cope with their roles.
AgingCare is a site where family caregivers share their comments, observations, questions, and answers.
For professional help, geriatric care managers are skilled and experienced people versed in a wide array of senior care management services, resources and benefits. They can provide a complete plan of care for seniors, or they can be involved to whatever degree the family caregiver and senior desire.
Perhaps one the most important ways to combat family caregiver anxiety is to realize you are not alone. There are people who are going through the same things as you, there are family and friends who love you, and there are dedicated professionals you can call on to help you manage.
As a senior caregiver, you need a support network you can count on. Bethesda’s Care Management program can help you create a customized care plan for your senior loved one, without the added stress of working out all the details on your own. Contact us to learn more.