I talk with many caregivers during the course of my work who are at different stages of their journey, dealing with the transitioning care needs of their aging loved one.
Frustration and being overwhelmed can enter the picture as a relative’s condition is worsening despite your best efforts and although it is necessary to shift gears when facing the new “norm” that is in front of you, it is not easy.
The inevitable path of end of life care is that you will lose that person you love. As you move through that process, your journey will change and shift and ultimately be more challenging.
To all the caregivers who are reading this column, I understand the faith it takes to keep going some days.
I am very aware when anger takes a hold of my mom or myself and we fight the inevitability of the path we are on.
Over seven months, my mom and I have learned to forgive each other and then have a laugh as the guilty party confesses to behaving obnoxiously because today is “just a bad day.”
Either she or I will say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, please forgive me for being impatient,” and we rest for a moment in arms wrapped around each other, laying on her bed in our spare room.
Underneath it all I know lays the grief we are both feeling as the natural cycle of life stares us in the face.
Sometimes the tears just can’t seem to come as I try to hold it all together and I am reminded by my dear husband to just let go.
It’s been two weeks since things very quickly began to dramatically change in her condition and I notice it is difficult to ask for help and open up to let others in.
You develop a routine that works and as a shift occurs, it feels like the gears are stuck as you try to face that things are not the same and move with the continual process of adjustment.
I am intimately learning to fully recognize the signs of caregiver stress and how to surrender to taking action to express to others that I can’t do it alone.
What are the common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress? Anxiety, depression, irritability, feeling tired and run down, difficulty sleeping, overreacting to minor nuisances, new or worsening health problems, trouble concentrating, feeling increasingly resentful, drinking, smoking or eating more, neglecting responsibilities and cutting back on leisure activities.
OK, I’m guilty as charged. To prevent moving into caregiver burnout, some steps of action are necessary.
First, it is important to speak up. No one else automatically knows what you need or how you are feeling.
Being upfront with what is going on with you and the person you are caring for requires that you get a dialogue going.
It you are in a state of stress, often you project and blame others. Step back, breathe and communicate.
Negotiate how to spread the responsibility with other family members or friends so that you do not move into feeling alone and isolating yourself.
Say “yes” when someone offers assistance and let them do it their way. Relinquish control and more hands will be ready to step in.
Many demands on your time and the added stressors in a caregiving role can make it difficult to focus and find those few moments for yourself.
Book in 30-minute time slots during the day just to nurture yourself.
Give little gifts of small luxuries that will relieve some of the stress and boost your spirits.
Just sitting in a coffee shop and enjoying a snack and reading the paper is one of my moments of calm that lets me stop, breathe and let go.
Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress. Watch a funny movie or call a friend who helps you see the lighter side of life. It feels good.
And above all else, remember to cry. Beneath all of the pent up emotion is knowing that time is running out, that the outcome can’t be changed.
Give yourself the necessary moments to just be still and rest in your own heart’s grace and sustenance. No one deserves it more than you.