Caregivers need care too

Help is available for caregivers to deal with stress and anger that can come with providing care for others.

Caregiving is a full time job, yet many Americans provide care for older, disabled or chronically ill family members in addition to their full time employment. You are a caregiver if you are helping with the daily needs of someone other than yourself that includes: handling finances, personal care, running errands, assisting with appointments, cooking, cleaning, preparing food and providing emotional support. Caregiving is stressful.

If you are a caregiver, you are not alone. More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. Nearly a fifth of those caregivers reside with the person they are caring for and the vast majority of caregivers are female (over 70 percent). Most caregiving in the United States is the responsibility of only one person.

Most caregivers have had little or no training for the task at hand. Caregivers learn “on the job” and have to rely on resources that are available locally or through recommendations from professionals. Many have found themselves thrust into the position suddenly, unexpectedly and with no preparation.

Caregivers often push aside their own needs in order to care for someone else. Stress from caregiving can be responsible for a myriad of issues for the caregiver that includes health issues, anger, feelings of loss, social isolation and emotional distress.

It is important that caregivers learn and employ techniques to assist with personal problems as they arise during the course of caregiving.RELAX; Alternatives to Anger, a curriculum and on-line course from Michigan State University Extension identifies steps that can assist with the stress that caregivers may experience.

Recognize anger and stress, what triggers it and how to cope.

Empathize with the person you are caring for and try to see their point of view.

Listen - Really hear what they are saying.

Accept that anger and lashing out from those who are being cared for is not about you (it’s about the situation) and develop problem solving skills.

X out the past and focus on the present.

It can be helpful for caregivers to create a list of all the caregiving tasks that are causing stress for them and then circle all of the items on the list over which they have absolutely no control. Review what is left on the list and then make a plan to focus on the items where they have a small degree of control. Stress can be decreased by focusing on things that “can” be controlled. Begin new each day, and tackle the list one item at a time.

If a caregiver does not ask for help, it is difficult for others to know that help is needed. Make a list of small things that others could do to assist and choose a task from the list when someone calls or asks if there is something that they could do to help. The list could be as simple as yard work, shopping, running to the pharmacy or making a simple meal for your family.

It is important that caregivers connect with others who are experiencing similar stresses. Seek help from a caregiver support group. Many groups are available that are specific to situations or a diagnosis. Consulting a personal physician may be the first place to begin when looking for help for stress related to caregiving. Identify the services in your community that offer respite care, home care, hospice care and adult day care services. Web resources include The Family Caregiver Alliance, National Alliance on Caregiving and National Family Caregivers Association.

How do you know if you are experiencing signs of stress from caregiving? Take a simple self-test from the American Medical Association to see if you have symptoms associated with high levels of emotional or physical stress. Family caregiving can provide rewarding benefits when the caregiver pays attention to his own health, emotional well-being, family commitments and signs of stress.

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