The Importance of Taking a Breath: How to Combat Caregiver Stress
"When you neglect your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, you cannot possible give effective care to a loved one." - Leeza Gibbons
Caregiver Stress? Take a Breath.
In almost every work place in the country, employees are given the periodic opportunity to step away from their work related tasks. The traditional work day begins at 8 am and ends at 5 pm, lunch breaks are granted and no one would think twice about a co-worker stepping away for a few minutes to stretch their legs, use the restroom, or grab a quick snack. In the culture of Corporate America, it is encouraged that staff take brief diversions from their task at hand to keep them focused and on track. These moments of respite are not always so easy to come by, however, if you find yourself in the position of caring for a loved one. With our senior population growing at such an exponential rate, more adults are finding themselves in the position of caring for an aging or ill parent and suffering from caregiver stress. Our parents worked hard to protect and provide for us, so it is our duty to care for them as they age, right? Perhaps. But it is vitally important for everyone involved that the caregiver nurture their own needs, step away at times, and ultimately take a break every once in a while. Leeza Gibbons writes in her book Take Your Oxygen First that “When you neglect your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, you cannot possibly give effective care to a loved one.” She compares the situation of caregiving to that of being on an airplane, in a dire situation, with oxygen mask ready for use. It is our instinct to put the needs of our loved ones first, thus handing them the proverbial oxygen mask. But what happens if you don’t get the oxygen that you need? Everyone involved is in worse shape as a result.
Combat Caregiver Stress
Gibbons recommends a program called the “Three E’s: Education, Energy and Empowerment.” She stresses that caregivers arm themselves with knowledge, keep their personal energy intact by eating right, exercising and maintaining personal interests, and stay emotionally empowered by accepting their new reality and letting go of guilt and anger. She has created the 10 Commandments of Caregiving and suggests that the following concepts can help caregivers provide the best care.
- Take your oxygen first.
- Never assume anything.
- Have family conferences regularly to communicate family roles, expectations and give updates.
- Do not socially isolate yourself.
- Never take anything personally.
- Always have a contingency plan.
- Ignore shame and stigma.
- Take advantage of community resources.
- Honor your memories.
- Keep your sense of humor intact.
By keeping these 10 guidelines in mind throughout your journey of caregiving and by honoring yourself, you will be able to provide the best care for your loved one. Caregivers must always take a moment to breathe, to take their oxygen first. Doing so will benefit everyone involved in a caregiving situation.
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