Learning how to deal with caregiver stress is an important skill that family caregivers can learn in order to improve their own health and wellbeing.
The more time and energy you put into taking care of yourself, the more you will be able to care for those around you.
In the article about Caregiver Stress Management Through Self-Awareness, we shared several caregiver stress relief tips that you are hopefully already practicing to lower your stress levels.
In this Elizz article, we will explore several more caregiver stress busters to ensure that you are regularly taking time for yourself, minimizing stress, and working to steer clear of caregiver stress burnout.
1. Fuel yourself with nutritious food and a balanced diet
Food is our body’s only source of fuel and we need food in order to sustain the energy needed to cope with stress and make it through the day. Compare the food you put in your body to the gas you put in your car. We can fill our cars with different types of fuel that make our cars perform in different ways. Lower octane gas generally causes poor performance compared to higher octane premium gas. You certainly can’t drive your car if there is no gas in the tank. Likewise, little or poor nutrition does not supply the body with enough fuel. This causes the body to perform poorly, especially under the extremely stressful situations that family caregivers often find themselves in.
In order to be able to manage the stress of caregiving, it is advisable to include fruit, vegetables, dairy, and meat in your diet. By ensuring that you are eating the daily servings of each food group as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide, you will have more energy throughout the day, have a stronger immune system, and be better able to manage difficult situations.
It’s also important to limit the amount of caffeine, sweets, and alcohol you consume. The key is moderation! Properly fueling your body will encourage a body that is healthy and well equipped to effectively cope with stress and reduce overall caregiver anxiety and burnout.
2. Get plenty of good, quality sleep
Stress and anxiety have the nasty habit of haunting us when our bodies try to shut down and go to sleep. It’s possible for stress to interrupt your sleep by causing you to worry at night (perhaps you already know this!). Too little sleep leaves us feeling tired and unable to handle the stresses we encounter on a daily basis as family caregivers…and the cycle continues! Here are some tips to try if you are having trouble sleeping:
- Caffeine, alcohol, and even cigarettes should be avoided close to bedtime. It’s also a good idea to limit their use throughout the day.
- Waking up at the same time every day helps to keep your body familiar with a routine. Yes, this includes weekends and days off!
- Large meals right before bedtime should be avoided. Try eating a lighter meal in the early evening. A leisurely walk after dinner will help with digestion.
- Try to avoid vigorous exercise at least a few hours before going to bed. Exercise is an important aspect of reducing stress but try to fit it in earlier in the day to avoid having difficulty falling asleep.
- Take a look around your bedroom for sleep distractions. Are there any lights that are too bright such as an alarm clock or electronic device? Can you hear noise from outside or your housemates? What about the temperature? Too hot? Too cold? Try to minimize these distractions. Remove electronics from the bedroom, use a sleep mask, earplugs, or purchase some new bedding.
- Although the idea of a nap is tempting, try to resist sleeping during the day.
Even after following all of these sleeping tips there might still be nights that you can’t seem to drift off. If you are unable to fall asleep, try getting out of bed. You can move to a comfortable couch or chair. Sometimes a change in location will help your mind relax. You can also try reading a book or doing an easy crossword puzzle. These light activities will give your brain something to focus on other than the fact that you can’t fall asleep. Speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner about your difficulty sleeping. He or she may be able to offer you additional advice or a sleep aid for occasional use.
Don’t overlook the importance of getting a good night’s rest on a regular basis. Sleep is crucial for your body and mind to stay healthy and manage stress.
3. Maintain a regular exercise routine
It is common knowledge that our bodies are healthier with regular exercise. However, did you know that exercise also makes you happier and reduces stress? Exercise causes the body to release hormones known as endorphins that improve our mood and cause us to feel good. So get active and make your mind smile! Asking a friend to workout with you will help you keep up with your exercise goals.
Start off slow if you’re new to exercise. Taking 20 minutes a day to walk can begin to make a difference in how your body and mind feel. If a 20 minute walk is not possible, you can break up the time into two 10 minute walks per day. Building exercise into your daily routine is a great way to get started and to keep up your momentum in the long run.
It’s important that you find an activity that you enjoy doing to help relieve caregiver stress. Try out a few different forms of exercise in order to find something that you enjoy and that you can easily fit into your schedule.
Remember to consult with a health care professional before beginning a new exercise routine.
4. Practice deep breathing
One of the simplest caregiver stress relievers can be done anywhere at any time – deep breathing!
Slowly breathe in through your nose, expanding your diaphragm with the incoming air.
Breathe out gradually (try to make it twice as long as the inhale) through your mouth.
This is an important technique to practice throughout the day. It will help your mind and body relax. It is an easy way to reduce stress and to help prevent shallow breathing or over-breathing during times of stress, which is a common problem.
Practice deep breathing at a time when you are feeling relaxed and comfortable so that it will feel normal and familiar when you need to breathe deeply in stressful situations to calm your mind and body. Try out this technique first thing when you wake up or just before you fall asleep.
This is a learned technique that you can practice every day and use whenever you feel specific caregiver stress triggers coming on.
5. Try meditation
Meditation is a practice that encourages you to develop deeper concentration, establish emotional clarity, and calm your mind. It is an approach to training the mind similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body.
Because meditation is a practice of focusing our attention and becoming aware of when the mind drifts, meditation can actually improve our focus even when we’re not meditating. Meditation has also been found to be an effective way to reduce tension, anxiety, and stress.
All it takes is a daily practice that can begin with just 10 minutes per day!
If you’d like to learn more about meditation or try it out yourself from sources you can trust, visit these websites:
Headspace – “Gym membership for the mind”
Headspace offers 10 free meditations or you can sign up for an account to get more.
This free online course is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” program and is offered by the University of Massachusetts Medical School. You can even get a certificate if you send in your “homework.” This meditation course comes highly recommended!
6. Try visualization techniques
Visualization is a type of meditation that allows you to mentally transfer yourself from a stressful environment to one that allows you to feel peace and tranquility. It can also allow you to imagine positive outcomes to caregiving scenarios you may face throughout your day. Visualization can be used to calm the stress of a caregiver from anywhere and at any time.
For effective visualization:
- Sit in a quiet space, close your eyes, and picture yourself in a place that makes you feel peaceful and calm. This place will be entirely individual – you may picture yourself in a field full of spring flowers, lying on a sunny beach, or watching the waves of the ocean crash against a rocky hillside.
- Take notice of the details in sounds, sights, and smells of this peaceful vision.
- Think about how you feel being here.
- Try to stay in this spot until you feel a sense of calm.
Some people find it helpful to have soft music playing in the background to assist with visualizations or perhaps a lit candle or some incense burning. All of these things engage the senses and help to heighten the experience.
Sometimes you may find it more helpful to be guided in your visualization practice. Try searching for the terms “guided imagery scripts” or “guided visualization” on Google or YouTube. There are also a number of guided visualization exercises available on Elizz.
7. Practice yoga to relax the body and mind
There are a number of variations in how people around the world practice yoga. Hatha yoga is the most common amongst Western practitioners. Hatha yoga focuses on breathing exercises, meditation, and physical postures. It’s a good introduction to basic yoga postures and should help you feel more relaxed. This ancient system of body and mind discipline is used to help reduce stress and find tranquility in life. You will notice both emotional and physical benefits from your yoga practice. Your mind will feel more relaxed while your body will benefit from an increase in flexibility and strength.
8. Get a massage to relieve tension
Experiencing gentle touch helps reduce the level of stress and anxiety that we experience. The technique of massage is just one form of touch that helps to relieve tension, stress, and pain throughout the body.
There are many types of massage techniques and you might want to test a few out to find one that most benefits you. Remember that massage is a form of therapy so consult with your health care provider before you begin to address any concerns or restrictions.
When selecting a massage therapist ensure that they are registered with the appropriate governing body and verify that they have received academic training and have satisfied all of the requirements in order to practice as a Registered Massage Therapist.
It is important to note that there are several types of massage and while there are Registered Massage Therapists, not all types of massage are accredited, and not all provinces have a governing body for massage therapists. At present, massage therapy is a regulated health profession in only four Canadian provinces: BC, Ontario, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick. There is no nationally recognized body or organization that evaluates or assures the quality of massage therapy in Canada. It’s best to look into the requirements surrounding massage therapy in the province you seek treatment in.
Other enjoyable forms of touch could include experiencing a hot stone massage or an Indian head massage, both of which are extremely relaxing although not always administered by Registered Massage Therapists.
9. Don’t forget the power of laughter and humour
A great, natural way to prevent or reduce caregiver stress is humour and laughter. These are the body’s natural stress releasers. A good laugh can help you relieve built up stress and improve the balance of your mind, body, and spirit. Research has shown that being able to laugh during a tense time allows us to feel in control of how we will respond to a situation. It provides us with a sense of power and perspective over our problems.
A positive and hopeful attitude can be fostered through laughter and humour. It is difficult to feel anxious and tense when you have an enormous smile on your face.
Here are some ideas to help bring humour and laughter into your life during stressful times:
- Unwind at the end of your day by watching a favourite TV show. (Preferably a comedy!)
- Take some time to read the comics in the daily newspaper. Clip out the ones that bring a smile to your face and keep them nearby for when you need a chuckle.
- Doesn’t everyone enjoy a bad joke? Crack a couple throughout the day.
- Read a humorous book. Many comedians and personalities have written books. Often their quirky personalities bring their words to life.
- Only wear clothes you feel happy wearing.
- Find some music that you enjoy and find relaxing or that makes you want to dance!
- Call that friend who always makes you laugh.
- Surround yourself with things that make you laugh or smile. Glancing over at a funny photograph can give your spirit that lift it needs during stressful times.
- Go to www.AJokeADay.com and have a joke sent daily to your inbox.
10. Find your own stress busters and use them as needed
Perhaps the most powerful and effective stress busters are those that allow us to connect with the things that we enjoy and bring a smile to our face.
It may be something as simple as curling up in your favourite chair and reading a great novel, visiting an art gallery, going bowling, taking pictures at the local zoo, watching Netflix, listening to music, or taking up that new hobby you’ve always wanted to try.
Whatever the activity, the point is to stay involved in your life. Express yourself and have fun! As a caregiver, the more time and energy you put into taking care of yourself, the more you will be able to care for those around you who need your time and assistance.
At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.