Stress can damage your health if you do not manage it properly—especially if you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia-related illness. As part of National Stress Awareness Month this April, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing seven tips to help caregivers manage their stress.
“Stress management and self-care are essential for every Alzheimer’s caregiver. Untreated stress increases the risk of caregiver burnout and can cause high blood pressure, heart problems, anxiety, depression, and numerous other health issues,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “Being proactive in dealing with stress has both short-term and long-term benefits for caregivers’ physical, mental, and emotional health, which is why it’s something that they should prioritize.”
AFA suggests the following tips for Alzheimer’s caregivers to prevent and manage their stress:
Flexibility helps. A caregiver’s attitude plays a huge role in stress levels—if the caregiver is calm and relaxed, it helps the individual living with Alzheimer’s to be as well. Conversely, an angry, agitated caregiver increases the chances that the person for whom they are caring will be angry and agitated too. Be adaptable, be positive, and aim for constructive solutions to changing situations.
Deal with what you can control. You cannot control every stress-causing factor, but you can control how you react to them. Focusing on finding solutions to the problem can help reduce the stress it’s causing.
Mind your health. Inadequate rest, poor diet and lack of exercise can all exacerbate stress (and create other health problems as well). As best you can, prioritize getting sleep, eating right, drinking plenty of water and being active. You cannot provide quality care to a loved one if you don’t take care of yourself.
Clear and refresh your mind. Exercise, yoga, meditating, listening to music, walking, or even taking a few deep breaths can all help relax the mind and reduce stress. Find something that works for you and do it regularly!
Take things one day at a time. Resolving everything at once is both impossible and unrealistic—don’t hold yourself to that unreasonable expectation. Prioritize, set practical goals, do your best to achieve them, and take things one day at a time.
Stay in touch. There are so many ways to stay socially connected with family and friends—visits, FaceTime, phone calls, text messages, and emails, just to name a few. Disconnecting from your support structure and staying bottled-up increases stress.
Be open with your feelings. Sometimes just talking about your stress can help relieve it. Whether it’s with someone in your support structure, a professional or even a stranger, don’t be reluctant to open up. AFA’s Helpline has licensed social workers available for caregivers seven days to provide support or even just listen.
The AFA Helpline is available seven days a week to help provide information and support regarding caregiver stress and other caregiving questions. Connect with a licensed social worker by calling 866-232-8484, web chatting at www.alzfdn.org or sending a text message to 646-586-5283. The web chat and text message features can serve individuals in more than 90 different languages.
Submitted by Sandy Silverstein