Supplemental information for Between a Rock and a Hard Place: When is long-term care the right decision? published in the November/December 2009 issue of Stroke Connection.
Maintaining Physical and Psychological Health
It’s crucial for a survivor’s health that the caregiver take care of his or her own physical and mental health. Here are 10 tips from social worker and caregiver Robin Straight.
- Learn as much as possible about the survivor’s condition; knowledge is empowering.
- Set good boundaries; learn to say no.
- Don’t dwell on what you can’t change.
- Limit caffeine.
- Get adequate rest.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Find a support system and nurture it.
- Share your feelings with someone who wants to listen.
- Focus on things you are grateful for each day.
- Care for yourself spiritually.
“The key is to keep your daily routine manageable,” Robin said. Make time for regular exercise—find a partner if possible. “It’s my experience that during times of illness, people turn to what is familiar or gives comfort. If your faith is an important component of your life, nurture it.”
Dealing with Stress and Depression
Physical and psychological stress is an inevitable part of caregiving. “To combat stress, set your priorities and maintain a ritual and routine,” Robin said. “This is all part of the ‘new normal.’ Having a structure and routine will keep you from feeling so overwhelmed. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can and should do it all yourself.”
One way for caregivers to relieve stress and stay healthy is to share their feelings with others. Verbalizing the need for help is not a sign of weakness but an indication of how serious the role changes are. Maintaining a support system of family and friends is crucial.
“Caregiving brings with it very difficult and stressful situations,” Robin said. “To say that you will not feel overwhelmed or isolated is not realistic. Stress is part of the package. It is how you manage it that impacts your well being both physically and emotionally.”
Depression is common at different points in the caregiving journey. “Given this major life change, it is expected that a degree of depression and hopelessness and helplessness is going to surface,” Robin said. “The caregiver cannot be all to everyone. Allow yourself to share your grief and loss with someone who wants to listen. Allow yourself to become angry with the loss and the new responsibilities that have been thrust into your lap. Remember, you are angry with the situation, not the person you are caring for.”
Ultimately, caregivers who do not provide for their own well-being can’t provide care for their loved one. This is a difficult tightrope to walk because by its nature caregiving is putting someone else first.