A Stress-Reduction Strategy for Caregivers
Being an adult daughter who cares for one or more parents is not an easy task; trust me, I did it, I know. I have lots and lots of advice on the subject of family caregiving, but thought I would share one quick and easy tip for creating a little more peace in your life as well as in the lives of your family members. I developed this strategy for myself, but have also shared it with many of the families I have consulted with over the years and it can be really helpful.
It is statistically true that the heavy-lifting within the family system, in terms of caregiving, falls upon the adult daughter. If there is no adult daughter in the family, the daughter-in-law is next in line. This is not to suggest that there are no adult sons and sons-in-law who do a terrific job, but they are definitely in the minority. I once heard someone say that the best health insurance you can have is an adult daughter. Not far from the truth.
If you are an adult daughter, helping to care for an aging parent, you, statistically, are also working for a living. What does this mean? It means you likely have your own family: partner, children, pets, as well as a full or part time job. Add to that the responsibility of helping your parents and all the challenges they are facing, and it screams “stress,” “overload,” “burned out”.
As a typical scenario, let’s look at an average Saturday in your life. You have worked all week, provided for your family, and now, on one of your two precious days off, it’s off to your childhood home to take care of grocery shopping, paying the bills, going through all the mail, speaking with paid caregivers, if there, making sure all the medications are in the right little boxes, and, most importantly, attempting to have a meaningful visit with your parent(s). These are cumulatively daunting tasks, let alone when you are on near-empty to begin with. And, of course, parents dislike nothing more than their adult child rushing in the door like a mad-person, flipping through the mail while asking a dozen questions, going through cabinets and the refrigerator at lightning pace and barely staying long enough to say hello and have any sort of meaningful conversation. Side note: if a parent has dementia, the scene of their daughter rushing about the house and giving off the energy of “hurry” and “not enough time” will be picked up and can be the cause of agitation. This only exacerbates the adult daughter’s situation and now she wants to leave even quicker!
What to do??? Here is my very quick suggestion, and it really does help. When you drive in the driveway, even if you’re late, sit in the car for at least a few minutes, preferably five or more. (If being in the driveway and not going into the house immediately is an issue, park down the street for this exercise.) Close your eyes, in silence, and practice the following breathing exercise: slowly inhale to the count of five – count to yourself – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – then hold your breath to the count of five – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – then exhale to the count of five – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Repeat at least three times, five is better. If counting to five is too much for you, do the same exercise, but only count to three each time. I know this sounds simple, and it is, but it works. What this will do is calm your nervous system – because let’s face it, when you pull in that driveway, your stress level often goes up before you even walk in the door. What this breathing exercise does is it calms you down and allows you to focus – prior to walking in the door. Yes, you have your list of things you HAVE to get done this Saturday morning, but try to execute in a more gentle manner. It will not only help preserve your sanity in the long run, but it will also make your parents feel more like people than tasks.