Caring Currents

How to Relieve Caregiver Stress When Every Day Feels Like "Groundhog Day"

Last updated:

February 02, 2010
Image by used under the creative commons attribution license.

Routine is an effective way to smooth the day for people with dementia. Unfortunately, too much repetition can leave a dementia caregiver feeling like a dog chasing her tail in circles -- or like poor, stressed Bill Murray in the old movie "Groundhog Day," about the man doomed to repeat the same day over and over again.

Fortunately it is possible to snap yourself out of a caregiving rut. Some strategies to try:

  • Keep a diary of the highs and lows of your day.

You may think your "whole situation" makes you stressed, but it's more likely that there are some very specific triggers to what makes you especially unhappy "“ as well as especially happy. Without paying conscious attention, it may be hard to ferret this out. But really knowing your triggers is the first step to being able to change (or protect) them.

  • Focus on what you can change, rather than what you can't.

You can't change your loved one's progressive disease. You can, however, change how much one-on-one time you're responsible for, by enrolling in [local] ( adult day programs (they do exist for people with dementia) or by enlisting an aide or a relative to spell you during the day or week.

  • Keep the basic timetable -- but tweak within categories.

It's critical to follow a routine for when you and the person with dementia eat, rest, have activity; the predictability helps your loved one track time while marking time for you. But having routines doesn't mean that everything about those activities has to be identical every day. Mix up the details: Order take-out from a local Chinese restaurant instead of making your usual recipes. Watch old family videos instead of "The Price Is Right" at 7 pm. Walk a route you have to drive to instead of around the block. Buy new, different bath salts. Small changes can feel like big breaths of fresh air.

  • Remember that ruts take place in the mind as well as on the road.

No doubt, your road is rough. But while there are many things that alter a hard reality (hiring help, for example), psychologists know that one of the best ways to overcome ruts begins in the mind. Your attitude can lighten the darkness of your everyday blues. So actively practice ways to lift it: Keep fresh flowers or favorite plants in the house. Start lifting weights or doing some other just-for-you habit that leaves you feeling renewed.

And ultimately, remind yourself why you've chosen this hard road: Because you love the person who needs your help and because this, right now, is a key part of the purpose of your life. It's easy to lose sight of the big picture amid the everyday grind. (And to see only the grind.) Instead, pat yourself on the back for doing something enduring, even if nobody else seems to. You can choose to view caregiving as an unredeeming grind, or as [something cool] (; the control dial lies in your head.

Don't be selfless to the point of harming yourself, but do strive to recognize the good in what you're doing even as you protect your own well being "“ for there truly is plenty of good, if you let yourself see it.