At the same time our son approached his teens, I was thrown into the world of caregiving for my parents and my grandmother that lasted quite a few years. When the phone rang, I wondered what latest crisis would hijack my day. I was “sandwiched” between my family’s needs and my parents’.
When I visited my mother in the hospital one day, she said she wondered why Dad had not answered the phone when she called. Come to find out, when he had stepped out of her hospital room, he passed out from a wonky heart rhythm and was admitted to the cardiac care unit. No one had called me.
That’s when the nurse in me kicked into gear. When the health care system (that I was a part of!) fails family caregivers, when I’m stressing out despite my education, I wondered how “lay” caregivers manage. Turns out, many caregivers struggle mightily, and in doing so, put their own health at risk. So, I researched caregiving to find a way the health care system can treat the caregiver as a patient group in need of nursing interventions, like the cardiac patient or diabetic. This was a professional and personal search. I learned quite a bit, and I’m putting it to use again as I resume caregiving.
Perhaps your loved one, the care receiver, has dementia and recently had a stroke. Now paralyzed on one side, he needs total care. You do a wonderful job keeping him clean, dressed, free of pressure sores, and well fed. Meanwhile, your hypertension is getting out of control. Your medications are not working well because you are under constant stress. You feel guilty because, being human, you don’t like living like this, even though you want more than anything to give your loved one the best life possible. So, you seek your favorite comfort foods that play havoc with your once-controlled diabetes.
Now I ask you, who is healthier? If you are out of commission, what will happen to your loved one? How much control over both your lives will you lose? You may be “sicker” than the person you are caring for! Clearly, caring for yourself is not selfish, but necessary.
As a caregiver, I find managing stress is a must. Continual stress puts the body in a constant fight or flight mode, sending cortisol to my cells. Too much cortisol affects everything from glucose levels to my immune system http://allmedicinedata.info/cortisol-overview-levels-and-recommendations/. It may not be the stress-or (incident or situation) that is causing stress, but rather my reaction to the stress-or. I cannot control the stress-or, but I can control my reaction to it.
- Every morning, with my cup of Java, God and I have a long talk. I pray for strength, wisdom, and patience. Then I unload like I would to a counselor. I hold nothing back. (How could I? God knows what’s in my heart more than I do.) I truly find peace, and quite often wisdom. One day, I was feeling irritated (don’t claim you never do — repression isn’t good for you), and suddenly realized that when I serve my loved one, I am serving Christ. How could I not want to do that? If you aren’t into prayer or consulting the Bible, other great de-stressors include meditation, deep breathing, talking to a friend, or even taking walks.
- To paraphrase the well-known prayer about having the wisdom to change what can be changed, etc., I would say that outcomes are beyond my pay grade. No matter what I do, outcomes are God’s department. Letting go and letting God makes a lot of sense. Why drive myself into despair over something over which I have no control? As Mother Teresa said, “You don’t have to be successful, you only need to be faithful.”
- As a firm believer in the nutritive, even curative, properties of whole food, fruits, and veggies, I turn to medications as a last resort. Furthermore, a nurse is a take-charge person. Nurses don’t fall apart when a patient stops breathing or is hemorrhaging. I should be able to handle anything, right? No.
This recent Covid- induced isolation, in addition to caregiving, stole my joy and plunked me into a world of depression I had never known. I cried easily, and over-reacted to minor setbacks. Realizing I needed to practice what I preach, I saw my doctor, and she ordered appropriate medication (It seems kale does not cure every ill). I now sleep better, and my energy returned along with my smile and “cool.”
- Finally, the best thing you could do for your care receiver is to enter your bliss. Carve out time for yourself. It is not being selfish. It is giving yourself the joy you need to stay the course. I feel stress melting away when I sit in front of my sewing machine, quilt block in hand.
Dealing with stress, while living a quality life with your care receiver, is one of many ways to prosper in a challenging landscape. We will look at other ways to manage other aspects of caregiving in future blogs.
Meanwhile, please share what you do to nurture yourself, so we can learn from each other.