Managing Stress While Caring for an Aging Parent
Posted Thursday, June 26th, 2014 by Mike Trevino
It may be the hardest job you'll ever have. Suddenly, mom or dad (or both) are no longer able to keep their body and their house safe, and they need special care. Oftentimes, that responsibility falls to you, their child: and it can be fraught with second-guessing, stress, and feel overwhelming at every turn. It can also be one of the most meaningful, important gifts you give back to those who nurtured you, and, with a little planning, it need not be so taxing. Read on to learn how.
- Planning is key. As you're diving in to a whole new set of responsibilities, it can be easy to fall into a rut of just taking things as they come: small crises, runs to the pharmacy, doctor's visits, etc. After a week or two of providing care, however, certain constants should become clear. Setting up a "game plan" for each week can help you compartmentalize the work you need to do—and the boxes that need to be checked off—to ensure everything runs smoothly. Try only making appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, and build in a trip to the pharmacy and the grocery store while you're out. That limits the amount of care you need to provide on the other days of the week.
- Delegate. Unless you're an only child, chances are good you have another sibling nearby who can assist you in caring for mom or dad from time to time. If they don't live nearby, perhaps they can come for a long weekend four times a year, to provide you a little respite. Or maybe they could take your family member to their house for a week, for a little "vacation." If you have no nearby family members, consider asking one of your parent's neighbors or friends to stop in once a week to have a cup of tea, or something along those lines. Maybe someone from their church would be a good choice. Get creative at finding ways to take a little of the load off yourself.
- Practice self-care. On your off hours, make caring for yourself your number one priority. Don't just fall into an unsatisfying pattern of watching Youtube videos by yourself after dinner: go to a movie, go out with friends, take a class you enjoy or go hang out in the steam room at the gym. Approach these treats with relish: you are doing hard work, and you deserve to pamper yourself.
- Accept what you can't change. Acknowledge and accept that some parts of this job will just feel dispiriting, and often futile. People don't "recover" from old age, after all. The end result is always the same. To limit your own frustrations, don't expect positive change or progress in who you're caring for, look for it in yourself. Celebrate when a different approach to a common problem is successful; pat yourself on the back for not losing your cool when they spill their coffee. It's a different way of thinking, to be sure—and the work can be thankless—but in the end you'll be a stronger, more patient person, and have shared a special time with your loved one that can't be traded for anything.