Your Mental Health

Caring for a loved one can be an emotionally exhausting experience. Here are some suggestions for dealing with the stress that comes with a caregiving situation.

Look Into Respite Programs In Your Community

Adult Day Centers can give you a regularly scheduled break. Available in many communities, these centers provide social programs and meals. Some provide transportation for adults who need supervised activities. Participants can attend 1 or 2 days a week, or even daily, depending on the individual program. Overnight respite stays may be possible. Some nursing homes, adult family homes, and assisted living communities offer overnight stays for up to two weeks at a time. If the person you care for can’t attend a day center, respite care in the home may be available from trained aides.

Managing Stress

  • Ask for and accept help.
  • Set limits and let others know what they are.
  • Make sure you have realistic goals and expectations. Don’t expect to keep a perfect house or entertain the way you did before you took on a caregiving role. Holidays may need to be simplified and you can divide up responsibilities between other family members.
  • Humor is often the best medicine. Rent a movie or watch a TV program that makes you laugh. Read a funny book. Humor can work wonders for relieving stress.
    Find support through understanding friends, support groups or a professional counselor.
  • Avoid difficult people. (For example, friends who are overly critical.)
  • Learn what helps you relieve stress. Some ideas are deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, writing in a journal, or a walk. Try closing your eyes; imagine yourself in a beautiful place surrounded by your favorite things.
  • Make a list of your own stress relievers. Keep it in a handy place and use it!

How Do You Know If You Need Professional Help?

Danger signals may be:

  • Using excessive amounts of alcohol or medications like sleeping pills
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much
  • Depression, loss of hope, feelings of alienation
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Losing control physically or emotionally
  • Treating the other person roughly or neglecting her

If you experience any of these symptoms, you are carrying too great a burden. Consider professional counseling or talk to your doctor about your feelings. Your doctor may recommend a counselor, or you can contact your local hospital, Mental Health Department, or the Yellow Pages to find a psychologist, social worker, counselor, or other mental health professional.

Support Groups

Even if you’ve never belonged to a support group before, consider finding a support group for caregivers, or one that is specific to your situation. For instance, there are groups for people with strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, AIDS and many others.

For many caregivers, support groups offer a chance to share feelings honestly, without having to be strong or put up a brave front for the family. Even if you’re “not the type” to share your feelings with people you don’t know, you will learn from other members of the group, people who’ve “been there” and may be going through the same adjustments. Call your local hospital or crisis hotline to find out about support groups in your area. Every group is different, so if the first group you attend doesn’t appeal to you, try a different group. No one understands as well as a fellow caregiver.

Originally written and published by the Aging and Adult Services Administration Department of Social and Health Services, State of Washington. Reprinted with permission.

© Washington State Department of Social and Health Services

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