Caregiving and Stress

Experts Weigh In: What One Thing Can a Caregiver Do to De-Stress?
Four Caring.com experts

Every caregiver has been there: completely stressed, at our wits' end, wanting to scream or laugh or cry (or all three). And while it's nice to imagine that there's some magic way to make all that tension vanish, caregivers know better. Caregiving is stressful, day in and day out. There's no quick and easy cure for that.

So we asked a few of our favorite experts -- those who really understand the unique strains of caregiving -- to tell us just one stress-reducing tip they use that really works. Hopefully you'll find a new idea (or a helpful reminder) here:

Lose Yourself in Music That Matches Your State of Mind

"I probably use exercise the most as a way to de-stress. However, that is not something new and not always possible while in the midst of caring for someone. After that, for me the most effective means to get away from feeling stressed is music. Getting lost in music serves for me as a form of meditation. The style of music and the tempo I'm looking for varies with the nature of the stress and my mood. In general, I've come to believe that rather than music that contrasts with my state of mind, music that expresses it works better. That may seem counterintuitive, but you might find it interesting to run your own experiments and see what works best. For example, if I'm feeling stressed and frustrated, picking soft and romantic music isn't as helpful for me in getting past the stressed feeling as something more dynamic, such as classic jazz or rock and roll. On the other hand, if I'm feeling stressed and sad, something softer and more lyrical seems to be more effective. For me, it's important to not use the same music all the time, so I've become dependent on my kids' playlists. Pathetic."
-- Ken Robbins, geriatric psychiatrist

Breathe Like You Mean It

"Caregivers are so short on time that it can be tricky to do things to de-stress. My tip to help relax takes little time and no equipment. Taking in deep breaths that come from the diaphragm help to relax your muscles, calm your mind, and slow your breathing.

"To breath using your diaphragm, place your hand on your lower abdomen. Breathe in through your nose, taking the breath deep from low in your belly, expanding your belly as you breathe in. You should feel the hand on your abdomen rise. Then breathe out through your mouth while pulling in your belly. Your hand should move in as your abdomen pulls in. Do three or so of these breaths to cleanse and be ready for the next part of your day!"
-- Monica Heltemes, occupational therapist and owner of MindStart

Change Scenery -- for Just 5 Minutes

"The truth is no matter how much advice there is, trying to de-stress is like dieting. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. Remember the grapefruit diet?

"I tend to run, Run, RUN from the moment I wake up. For the past three decades I've talked about slowing down.

"As a caregiver I was always doing something -- mostly keeping up with my father. I finally gave in. When life got too overwhelming, I took a five-minute respite. It worked so well (for me) I introduced the idea to caregivers.

"The five-minute respite works because it's a quick change of pace. Heck, if we can spend five minutes in the bathroom, we can spare five minutes for a brief respite.

"When life gets too crazy and we're bordering on doing something that might land us on a state-sponsored vacation (prison), it's time to step away. Go outdoors or even to a different room. Take a deep breath, then take another. Stretch. Do something . . . anything to break the cause of that stress."
-- Brenda Avadian, founder of The Caregiver's Voice

Go to Bed an Hour Early

"Honestly, my number-one method for de-stressing is to get into bed an hour earlier than I normally would, or even two, if I could ever sneak it in -- even if everything isn't done for the day. The stress reduction that comes from not feeling like I already know when I go to sleep that I won't have enough hours to sleep is just the beginning. A few nights in a row of more-than-usual sleep changes my outlook on everything, gives me better focus, better mood, better stress tolerance, better ability to make healthy food choices, and energy for even a little bit of exercise.

"Besides being good for my inner mental and physical health, I know sleep is good for my skin, too. Research has shown that the term 'beauty sleep' is real! It's during sleep that our body runs the healing cycles that reduce oxidative stress on the cells, helping reverse signs of aging and reduce damage, breakouts, and inflammation caused by all of our daytime stress: caregiving stress, environmental stress, lack of sleep, and poor-diet stress. The more we sleep, the better our body is able to preserve its youth and beauty.

"Of course, I might have to wait another night or two to catch up on my DVR'd TV shows, but the reward of better sleep far outweighs an episode of Mad Men."
-- Jessica Krant, dermatologist at Art of Dermatology


10 months ago, said...

Hi everybody. Not only is" my mother in law" lives with us for at least 6 years now I'm still a mess. We used to be very close when she was without this awful disease but now I feel that she has truly died and am taking care of a stranger. My husband is great in taking care of her I just can't get a grip on it all. We also have other issues I'm dealing with so that adds to everything else. I've been gradually doing things that have been suggested from this great sight and I thank you so much and am so glad to find you. Your tips have helped me more than the 3 "professional counselers" I've tried. Thank you again and with your help n tips I'm getting stronger but because of who I am it's taking me longer but with all of your support I'm slowly getting better......very slowly.


over 2 years ago, said...

Thanks for the info. Gene


over 2 years ago, said...

Mama is my friends mother who I began caring for a couple of hours a day, after I noticed she needed help with personal hygiene and fixing meals. I would pretend to be in the neighborhood cause she did not need help. Last year in June, My husband and I moved in with her because my friend went to rehab. In the last six months, she has had many other problems and the dementia is in the severe stage. She has become very attached to me and even when she can't remember much she will know me. I am equally attached to her and feel like I cant leave her alone for a minute. However, this past month has been worst. We will have days when she will yell "HEY!" even if I am sitting next to her bed, when I answer her she will say I did not know you were there, and then this is repeated every 20 - 30 minutes. She is incontinent and pretty much stays in bed, however I get her up in a chair at least once a day. This week she began having trouble with feeding so I began feeding her or giving fingerfoods. We used to have really good conversations about everything and now all she does is ask where she is, how did she get here and where are her kids? her husband? He passed in 2004. This is really sad and yes very stressful so I appreciate this website, thank goodness for the internet. Her granddaughter is the only one that visits two times a month, she pays the bills and buys groceries but thats all mamas money affords. I really wish there was a way for me to get some kind of pay, so I can pay for internet service, which has become my crutch. Does anyone know of programs in texas that will help, since I live here with her?


almost 3 years ago, said...

I do like being outside, & I would mow the yard,..............sometimes water the flower beds,........ & the running water was soothing to my nerves...L


about 3 years ago, said...

I wish that I knew how to journal. Music helps some, but with my sleep apnea, I can't wake up. If I'm not careful, I fall asleep all the time. Maybe my local adult education or community college will have an on-line class about journalling.


about 3 years ago, said...

Great suggestions from all--for me, music and journaling are most helpful.


about 3 years ago, said...

Each caregiver has to find what works best for him(her)self, but at one time or another I have used each of the above remedies. We plough through each day, wearing & frustrated, expecting something to change, but it never does. But I recently found myself finally turning toward the creative --- old hobbies & interests like writing, sewing, journaling, etc. for even 10 minutes at a time focuses your mind toward your own needs. I like to think of those minutes as "mini-respites". It really works for me!


over 3 years ago, said...

These are very good suggestions. It's important to have different resources of companion care  so that the caregiver wont be drained. The more people helping, the more that the senior will feel the love and care that she needs.


over 3 years ago, said...

Your tips helped revise my thinking about the experience called stress. Thanks. Gene


over 3 years ago, said...

Great Tips! Thanks


over 3 years ago, said...

EileenM - I do the same with cars, only I just do it on-line - not ready to face any sharks. I do look at RVs as well, but am working to fix mine up a little - bunch of things broke on my Memorial Day weekend camp trip. Have a great week!


over 3 years ago, said...

If I have enough time, I drive to different RV dealers and see what they have available. If not, I go on line to daydream.


over 3 years ago, said...

Put on my headphones snd hit the stepper for a quick half hour. Really fies improve outlook on things. Found my stepper st thrift store for 30 dollars


over 3 years ago, said...

remember, just as when raising a child, things do not need to be perfect - just loving. and you can not do it all --- ask for help.


over 3 years ago, said...

At lunch during my working hours (yes, I work full-time too!), I read books on my kindle. Also read it at night when I have trouble sleeping. My kindle is one of the just for reading type, so no backlighting to mess with my circadian cycle. It helps. I used to love to read.


over 3 years ago, said...

I would go jogging or ride my bike. Even just taking a walk alone for 20 minutes while listening to some good music can help take your mind off of the problems you have racing in your head.