Keep Stress at Bay

Stress is a big problem facing most caregivers, especially when Alzheimer’s disease is in the picture. Here’s how to keep stress to a minimum.

Yoga can be an effective stress reducer.
Yoga can be an effective stress reducer.

Let’s face it: Stress is a natural part of life. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. A little pressure can inspire us to make necessary changes, to try something new, or to take a big next step in a career path, to name only a few examples.

But it doesn’t take much to push stress past “the red line,” to the point at which stress becomes disconcerting or even disabling. In providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s, that point can come quickly. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for stress and for dealing with stress so it doesn’t become a burden. After all, it’s important to take care of yourself in mind, body, and spirit.

One of the biggest de-stressing techniques can be a very simple one: relaxing. Relaxation is good for everyone, and a necessary part of life in what can be a high-stress environment. Time for relaxation is often the first thing that gets squeezed out of a schedule when we get busy, but it’s important to make time for it.

Relaxation can be as simple as listening to favorite music while sitting in a comfortable chair, or enjoying a cherished hobby. Some people find keeping a journal to be a relaxing pursuit. For others, relaxation exercises, such as tai chi or yoga, are the preferred route.

Exercise is another great way to keep stress at a minimum.
Exercise is another great way to keep stress at a minimum.

There’s plenty you can do to help yourself use your relaxation time more effectively. Consider these steps:

  • Exercise.
    Of course, exercise is great for your health in general, but it’s also an effective way to help you release stress. Before starting an exercise program, talk with your doctor about what exercises would be best for you. In general, you want to get a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. A brisk walk is great exercise.
  • Eat healthy.
    Given the stress of caregiving, it’s all the more important that you eat a healthy diet. In general, you want to limit high-fat meats (choose lean meats or other sources of protein instead); eat plenty of vegetables and fruits; choose whole-grain foods; and prefer low-fat dairy products.
  • Get plenty of rest.
    Sufficient sleep is vital to staying healthy and keeping stress at bay. Go to bed and awaken at the same times every day, and you’ll help your body get the rest it needs.
  • Create a caregiving team.
    We all need a break once in a while, and in caregiving it’s even more important to make time for yourself. That means having your own support system. Consult with family members and friends who can step in from time to time and offer a helping hand. Many people want to help, but often don’t know how or feel awkward asking if you need help. Remember, no one goes this journey alone.
  • Consider getting outside help.
    Alzheimer’s support groups are available in many areas and provide a wonderful resource for caregivers. If you prefer private sessions, some therapists and counselors specialize in helping caregivers cope. There are other community resources that may be available in your locale, as well.
  • Learn as much as you can about Alzheimer’s.
    Knowing what to expect with your loved one’s condition can help you understand how you (and others) can best help with caregiving.
  • Accept change.
    Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, and your loved one will go through many changes as the condition progresses. Understand that change is part of the process. To the extent possible, anticipate changes and have a plan for dealing with them as they occur.
  • Plan ahead.
    Take care of long-term plans as soon as you can, so you can eliminate worry about the future as much as possible. Preparing the necessary legal documents should be part of your planning, and mapping out a course for long-term care should be part of the discussion, too.
  • Pat yourself on the back.
    There is nothing easy about caregiving, and you’re an extraordinary person for providing care to your loved one. Give yourself some credit! A healthy reward once in a while is a good way to keep thinking positive.

By Sam Gaines