As we recognize November as National Family Caregivers Month, Roberta Carson, Founder and President of Zaggo, Inc., shares advice for managing some of the often overlooked stress associated with caregiving. Zaggo was formed out of Roberta’s experience as a caregiver for her son Zachary during his 27-month battle with pediatric brain cancer.
Here’s a job listing few people would get excited about: 20-100+ hours a week with no pay. Applicant must put the needs of others above their own needs, have physical strength for heavy lifting, a strong stomach to handle bodily fluids, limited or no desire to get outside, an upbeat attitude, ability to thrive with limited sleep, excellent organizational skills, and a willingness to put their own lives aside for months or even years. Does this sound like a job you’d love to apply for? No! However, millions take this job on, often with little notice, as they become family caregivers. Taking care of a sick or disabled loved one is a difficult and time-consuming task that millions of Americans manage every day. It is very stressful, often isolating and overwhelming, and can go on for years. How can you handle the stress of caregiving?
The Stress of Caregiving
Taking care of a loved one dealing with an illness or injury is overwhelming and stressful. Many caregivers face complex situations that can impact their emotional health, physical well-being, and financial situation. According to the 2018 Genworth Beyond Dollars Study, caregivers reported that caregiving caused negative health and emotional impacts:
- 41% reported depression, mood swings, and resentment.
- 53% reported a negative impact on their stress level.
- 46% reported a negative impacted their health and wellbeing.
- 50% reported having less time for their spouse/partner, children, and themselves.
From a work perspective, caregivers may have to cut back on their hours or take a leave of absence. They may also be challenged finding affordable services to help with care.
At times, it may seem overwhelming. But there are tools and tips to support caregivers in minimizing their stress so they can focus their energy on caring for their loved ones.
Tips to Reduce Stress as a Caregiver
- Get as much help as possible – both paid and unpaid. Don’t try to do this by yourself!
- Don’t isolate yourself, which can be depressing. Instead, reach out to your friends and family via email or phone. Ask friends to stop by for a visit.
- Consider getting help with “non-caregiving” tasks to ease your daily burden, such as meal preparation, grocery shopping, errands, childcare, etc.
Take Time for Yourself as a Caregiver
It’s vital to practice self-care. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help your loved one. This includes taking care of both your physical and emotional needs.
- Take care of your own physical health! Continue to see your doctors for your own physical health and do not ignore symptoms. You’ll be no help to your loved one if you are bedridden yourself.
- A social worker or therapist can help you deal with the emotional stresses of caregiving – including depression, anxiety and loneliness. Find a therapist by asking your doctor for recommendations and/or by reaching out to your community for suggestions. Additionally, you can ask your doctor about the availability of hospital-based clinical social workers who might be able to help you for no charge (ask about costs upfront).
- Make sleep a priority – aim for 8 hours/night. Take naps if needed.
- Eat healthfully, drink plenty of water, and try to exercise regularly.
- Find a way to de-stress every day. Even if you cannot regularly leave the house, make yourself a priority for a small part of each day. Take a bath, meditate, exercise, watch TV, read, listen to music, or participate in any other activity you find relaxing and replenishing.
- Join a support group, either in person or virtually, to connect with other caregivers in the same situation. As the saying goes – misery loves company. You’ll likely find that reaching out to people in the same boat is comforting and you may even learn some tips for patient care and stress reduction. However, if you find that a group is causing you stress, don’t hesitate to drop out!
Take Steps to Become an Engaged Member of the Medical Team
It’s hard to manage a serious illness or injury. There is a lot of medical information to learn and keep track of, difficult decisions to make, complicated medication routines to manage, and more. To reduce your stress associated with the management of their loved one’s illness, follow these suggestions:
- Stay organized and on top of all medical issues. First of all, take detailed notes at all medical appointments. And bring them with you to share with your medical team at each appointment. Additionally, bring copies of test results and medication lists (including over the counter drugs) to all appointments.
- Realize that you need to coordinate care between all medical professionals. Do not assume they have access to, or have read, detailed reports from other doctors on your team.
- Ask as many questions as you need until you are sure you understand what the doctors, nurses and other staff tell you. Importantly, don’t be afraid to ask a doctor or nurse to repeat or rephrase a response.
- Ask your health insurer to assign you a case manager, who can be very helpful to you as you navigate the medical world.
- Before a hospital discharge, make sure you clearly understand all instructions. If difficult or unfamiliar tasks are necessary (e.g. injections), practice at the hospital with a nurse until you feel confident.
About Zaggo, Inc. (www.Zaggocare.org)
Zaggo, Inc. is a non-profit organization formed out of the experience of its Founder and President, Roberta Carson. Roberta was thrust into the role of caregiver for her son Zachary during his 27-month battle with pediatric brain cancer. After Zach died in 2007, many people asked Roberta to share the story of how she coped. Others wondered what information, tools, and resources helped her manage Zach’s cancer and reduce their stress. These discussions brought to light the urgent need for practical, easy-to-use information and organizational tools to help patients and family caregivers manage an illness or injury.