Coping With The Stress of Family Caregiving & Personal Life Stressors – How to Manage Both
March 23, 2016
“The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.” - Psalms 29:11
Family Caregivers have one of the most stressful jobs there are because there must be an ability to change on a dime and to adapt according to the stability of our loved one who we are supporting and if there are other family members in the home or who regularly have interactions with our loved one we may find ourselves in the role of a mediator as well if they don’t fully understand the effects of negative symptoms from the illness or disorder. Caregivers spend the bulk of their time, if they are full time caregivers, in the on off position throughout their day and if you haven’t had the experience of a family caregiver or know the ins and out of it you would assume it’s a fairly easy task.
Helping a loved one to manage their negative symptoms comes at a cost to the caregiver on many levels:
Spiritually – Something happens to our faith when we are hit with adversity after adversity, failure after failure, and illness after illness if we don’t take the time to come back to ground zero and re-enforce our spiritual standing. It is easy to get discouraged especially when it looks like nothings changing and we are praying and asking God for His help and it looks like nothing is working or that He has forgotten about us. If we are not aware of our own spiritual need we can starve ourselves into a spiritual death because we fail to read our bible or to pray without ceasing and until there is a breakthrough. Part of our faith is doing the work. We can do all the research and find all of the treatments and programs for our loved one but if they don’t want to do the work there will be no progress. Praying for God to remove the barriers that stop them from wanting to do the work, asking for God to help them fight addictions and then doing the work on our end to be prepared for when they are ready to go into detox is key. Researching programs and finding access to any and all resources that will be required when they come in and say they are ready to do the work.
Mentally – We can fall into depression or began to suffer from anxiety and require to come under the care of a doctor or a therapist ourselves in order to continue being a solid support for our loved ones. Worrying constantly about what will happen next and or if we are going to be able to handle it can cause anxiety and can also lead us to other things like heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension if we are not proactive in managing our stress and emotions. Depression can began to overtake us as we take to our beds outside of caring for our loved ones and if we are not careful that is where we will wind up staying. Building a good support system is important to stave off depression as well as staying or getting active. If we are not careful we can fall into a rut where we don’t even care to pray or meditate any longer, it can become a chore instead of our refuge. One of the quickest ways to lose ground on all that we have managed to squeeze out is to get to a place of feeling God doesn’t have an ear for our suffering and know that we are in need of rescue. If we can win the battle in our mind we can wage war affectively on the other attacks on our spiritual, physical, and emotional selves. Reinforcing our mind with positive thoughts, surrounding ourselves with positive and praying people gives us the courage and the strength to fight to come back from mental anguish.
Physically – if the loved one becomes incapacitated due to negative symptoms sometimes the caregiver may have to lift and move the loved one in and out of bed or change diapers in the case of the caregiver caring for a loved one with dementia. It can require a caregiver to stay up long hours with very little rest comforting a loved one who may be severely depressed, manic or having difficulty breathing as in dementia. It may require monitoring a loved one for a possible trip to the ER due to negative symptoms of their illness or disorder. Knowing when to get the help or to look for resources that will help us to buy the equipment to help to lift a loved one in and out of the bed or to take breaks when we get the chance to when caring for a loved one with a mood disorder or psychosis, also keeping ourselves anchored in the real world with family and friends who can be of support and help us to stay rooted in reality. Having family and friends who will pray for us and our loved ones, for the strength to keep going when we are weary, strength to keep fighting when they or we want to give up.
Emotionally – Watching someone suffer that you love is very difficult and not having the ability to alleviate the suffering or failed therapies and medications can cause disappointment for the caregiver as well. We watch our loved ones go through one disappointment after another and we internalize that pain as well, it affects us as well. Sometimes a loved one experiencing a negative symptom of their illness or disorder can lash out verbally and cause emotional wounds we find difficult to erase from our minds. We can start to resent our loved one for the ill treatment and battle with ourselves over staying or over leaving. Once we understand this process requires the full participation of our loved one we can pray and ask God to reinforce our strength and we will pray for God to give them the strength to recognize the addiction or the failure to get help and then pray God gives us the emotional fortitude to stand in the gap for them as they make the journey. We can ask God to give us peace in knowing He has already worked it out and that we just have to stay focused.
One of the most important tools in the caregivers tool kit is their spiritual grounding because much of what is faced defies all natural order and for a Christian caregiver we struggle in and out of the physical and spiritual warfare parts of this journey because of our beliefs of the spiritual realm. Keeping in mind there is also a physical element to this journey as our loved one may require a biological stabilizing in order to fully manage their illness. Having people around you who also understand this is important and can sometimes be difficult to achieve but you may just be the one to start a support group for Christian caregivers, because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it’s impossible or cant be created. When we take action it empowers us and gives us that shot in the arm to keep going. Being proactive gives us our power back.
What are some ways to manage the stress of caregiving and our personal lives?
We are at an all time high of stress today whether we are in the mental health community or not. News of horrible events caused by people who are lost and under the power of the evil one which is what scripture calls satan. In John 8:44 it says, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” We can see so much of what the enemy is doing in politics, in the news and in our own lives, and if we are not careful we too can come under the spell of believing we are doomed. There are ways we can reinforce our lives and ensure we are not falling victim to depression and a defeatist spirit.
Being vigilant about how we manage our spiritual lives is key but in order to do that we must also manage what we are doing in our spiritual lives. With social media we know way more about what is going on in our world now than those who came before us and although that is a very good thing it can also be a very bad thing if it isn’t monitored both for us and our loved ones, especially those with mood disorders or psychosis. Knowing what to do to reduce the amount of negative stress in our lives, the type of stress we can eliminate because it is what I call “option stress”. We can opt out of it if we choose to. Option Stress is stress we wouldn’t have if we didn’t go looking for it.
What forms can “Option Stress” come in? Here are a few examples to give you an idea and then you can use them to identify those “option stressors” in your life:
Social Media – Time lines bring us things we may not under normal circumstances go looking for due to people on our friends lists. Pay attention to the text at the top of the post if you are on Facebook and it will tell you who in your friends list is liking or commenting on those things and you can either limit the posts you see from them or follow them on another page that you will not access that often.
Sometimes deleting or unfriending can cause emotional conflict if you create another page and move others over there who enjoy material that is causing you stress or disturbing your peace. You can just express to a friend offline via phone call or in person that you are having difficulty not being distracted by what is there and that you are unfollowing them as a result. I would just be up front but that isn’t for everyone. Being vigilant about how we handle our “spaces” means we are responsible for what impacts our lives. We cannot allow loyalty to others to interfere with our peace.
News – With so many options now available due to technology we can choose what we watch and read. I check in and review news headlines and unless it has some relevance I don’t click on it.
I listen to news on the radio, NPR news is good resource I have that allows me to hear what is going on around the world and then I turn it off, the rest of what is being shown all day long is a repeat with very little change. Keeping the news playing on our TV’s and watching online all day only feeds our fears and our stress.
Negative People – Online or off, limit your time with them or stop interacting altogether. People who are negative are allowing past experiences to color their current state of mind and love company in the pit of despair.
They cannot help it because they haven’t yet learned they have the power over their thoughts. You can share positivity with them but remember that requires lots of energy and if their energy requires constant restoration you may eventually have to do so at your own expense, praying and asking God for direction and using discernment , in other words recognizing if they really just don’t know any better and desire to learn more in order to change or if they are just comfortable there and have dug in refusing to move. Whatever the case you must be able to recognize which they are and adjust accordingly.
Negative Mindset – Things happen around us, to us, and for us and when we learn which is occurring we can adjust our thinking accordingly. Some things can be eliminated just by changing how we think about them, 1) Do we have the power to change it? 2) Do we need to accept it? 3) Do we need to change something in ourselves? With practice we can change how we think. We are caregivers and yes its one of the most difficult jobs to have however we are not responsible for the suffering of our loved one.
We can only help them where they cannot do it themselves and where we are capable. Doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists are well educated in their fields and do not need our help there, our job is to ensure our loved ones are getting the care they deserve and that is in the interest of improving their health. If they are not receiving the services they should we need to take the appropriate actions to ensure they do…asking questions, inquiring of other treatments, changing doctors if necessary but just giving up is not an option nor is becoming bitter. We must remember our loved one has to want to get better more than we want them to, and if they are suffering from other long term illnesses that may eventually take their lives our job is to make sure they don’t have unnecessary suffering at our hands due to neglect or failure to ensure they are being cared for by the professionals like they should. Everything outside of that requires prayer and patience and is out of our hands.
We must be proactive in how we live, it must be intentional. No days off for our self care. Self care isn’t just about taking a break it’s about seeing to our health in all aspects. It’s about managing and nurturing our interpersonal relationships, it’s about keeping our marriages healthy, it’s about keeping our relationship with our other children healthy and nurturing our friendships as well. Yes we are in need of lots of moral support but that does not excuse us from our responsibility of our roles in our many different relationships as well.