Mental Health Tips for Caregiving for an Older Parent

Mental Health Tips for Caregiving for an Older Parent

Caring for a parent can be one of the most rewarding experiences in one’s life. It’s a time to give back the love and affection a parent once gave you, to heal old wounds and to commit an act of selflessness which can be deeply gratifying and fulfilling.

However, and this is a big however, on a day to day basis, caregiving for a parent can be one of the most challenging undertakings one can experience in a lifetime. It can aggravate past grievances, require a patience many of us lack, demand time we don’t have and expertise we don’t have.

Rarely does a facebook page replete with nostalgic pictures of hugs and kisses with mom and dad show you changing their diapers, washing their underwear, dabbing lunch from their chin, or convey the hurt of being hit, slapped, bitten, blamed or forgotten. Rarely, if ever do those pictures show the stress of being the sole person responsible for the life of another or the despair of watching the pain and suffering of someone you love dearly.

While caregiving can be an opportunity and honor, it can also be an anchor and a burden. But we can amplify one and minimize the other.

Signs You’re Stressed or Anxious

There is a difference between stress and anxiety. Stress is a reaction to an external cause and goes away once the situation is resolved. Think of an exam, competition or work project. Sometimes it’s a positive experience, causing us to focus more and work harder. Other times, we can have more of a negative reaction to stress and feel overwhelmed, procrastinate or feel unfocused. Sometimes it can bring us a serene calmness, other times we can get jumpy and rude.

Anxiety is a little bit different, in that it may or may not be caused by an external event, and typically does not end when that external event or threat is over. It’s with us all the time. It’s a black cloud of dread or nerves that follows us throughout the day and night and prevents us from living our life as we normally would.

Stress can sometimes be desired and is a natural response to an immediate threat or challenge. Anxiety is almost never wanted and interferes with our mood and ability to perform.

Managing Caregiver Mental Health

There are several things you can do to reduce the likelihood of caregiver stress negatively impacting your mental health.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Help can come from family members or professionals. Don’t let the burden of responsibility fall solely on your shoulders. Split responsibilities and days with siblings and spouses. Use that freed up time to do what you normally would like working, going to the gym, going out with friends, having a BBQ or playing cards.

Also if there is an activity you find particularly difficult ask for help. Swap or match responsibilities with siblings or others based on preference and skill For example, you may be uncomfortable helping your parent toilet or assisting them in the shower. That’s perfectly ok. See if there’s someone who doesn’t mind that activity – it’s no strike against you. Alternatively, you may find it difficult to sit and watch a parent sleep, while someone else might find it relaxing and an opportunity to read or catch up on work.

The bottom line is, if possible, avoid doing it all yourself and try to carve out some “me” time. That said, you may be in a more difficult situation where you really don’t have anyone to share responsibilities with. If that’s the case, some of the suggestions below may be even more important.

Use technology to create more time for yourself.

There are alternatives to relying solely on others to relieve or help you with your caregiving responsibilities. For example, you can use technologies like medical alert systems, cameras, fall detectors, smart speakers, video doorbells, medication reminders, automatic medication dispensers, and smart home technology to help you monitor your parents safety and manage certain tasks from a distance.

Caregiving technologies can give you the comfort of knowing your parent is safe while you’re doing your daily tasks or out of town. They can also be a much more cost effective alternative to hiring someone to do the same. They may or may not be the answer, but they are often relatively inexpensive to try relative to the hourly cost of hiring a professional caregiver, so give it a shot and see if it’s helpful.

Make time for your favorite activities.

Obviously you won’t have time to do everything you did prior to your caregiving responsibilities. That said, you should carve out time to do your favorite activities. For example, if you have a weekly game of cards with friends, softball league, lunch with friends or Sunday church do your best to schedule help during those times.

Doing so will give you the balance necessary to stay fresh and invigorated. It’s important to give your mind a break from the heaviness, sadness and pain of caregiving. Give yourself opportunities to experience joy, laughter, fun or challenge. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty for doing so. It’s ok to cry and laugh on the same day. You don’t have to be sad or somber twenty four seven to show respect. Caregiving can be a long term commitment, life’s other needs need to be tended to as well.

Make time for activities that improve your mental health.

We know there are certain activities which can help improve our mental health. Specifically, sleep well, eat well and exercise. To the maximum extent possible you should be doing all three on a daily basis.

Lack of sleep alone can cause anxiety, depression and impatience – none of which will make you a better caregiver. Rest up.

How can you be an optimal caregiver for your parents if you’re “hangry”? Eating healthy will give your mind the ammunition necessary to be energized, focused and positive. Try to minimize unhealthy foods, eat throughout the day and limit coffee and alcohol.

Lastly, nothing clears the mind like exercise. You don’t have to pump iron in the gym, but even going for a 30 minute walk once or twice a day can do your mind a world of good. If you have an exercise routine try to stick with it. All of it will make you a better caregiver and improve your mental health.

Talk it out.

The issues that come along with caregiving can be very taxing. Guilt, shame, sadness, anger, loss, anxiety, resentment, concern, worry, are just a few of the very real emotions that caring for a parent can evoke. If you’re having trouble coping or processing those emotions it’s ok to seek out help. Whether it’s a friend, family member, caregiving support group, social worker or psychologist, talking it out, getting validation and tips and tools to better deal with the situation can be a breath of fresh air. You don’t have to walk this path alone. Sadly, millions of people have done this before you. Get their advice and support.

Caregiving can be physically, emotionally and financially taxing. It can impact your work, relationships and your own mental health. Some situations are easier than others. Some people are harder than others. But regardless of the circumstance, getting help, creating time, talking it out and taking care of yourself are just a few of the arrows in your quiver that will help you cope more successfully.