Positive Coping Strategies for a Family Caregiver
Stacey Bonner, Family Services Coordinator, talked with Angela Hopkins, Licensed Master Social Worker at Vanderbilt Home Care, about positive coping strategies for family caregivers.
Stacey Bonner: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Stacey Bonner with the Child and Family Center. As a family caregiver you will find yourself facing a host of new responsibilities, many of which are unfamiliar or intimidating. Angela Hopkins, Licensed Master Social Worker at Vanderbilt Home Care, is here to discuss some coping strategies for family caregivers. Angela, why is it important for a family caregiver to develop positive coping skills?
Angela Hopkins: First of all, it makes them better caregivers, not only for the benefit of themselves but especially for the benefit of the loved one that they are caring for. A new study in fact out of Ohio State University found that dealing with persistent long-term stress such as caring for an elderly patient can actually change your genes leading to an increase in inflammation that can bring on a variety of health issues.
Stacey Bonner: Stress management is important when coping. Can you provide some tips family caregivers can do to alleviate some of the stress?
Angela Hopkins: Learning how to cope properly to manage stress goes a long way for the caregivers everyday health and some examples are the following; just get outside, enjoy nature and get some fresh air take in the sights, the sounds, and the smells around you, this redirects your focus from your worries and if you cannot manage to get outside, adding plants to your home is actually been found to lower blood pressure and decrease stress. Relying on rituals or routines whether it is taking a bath before bed, listening to your favorite music in the morning in times of stress it helps to return to a comforting routine or ritual. Consistent routines actually help you relax since our bodies crave routine naturally, and routine can help your loved one feel less stressed as well. This has been found often with the demented patient. Just get out of your head. Caregivers are some of the hardest people on themselves with overly high expectations, and these lead to negative thoughts and what ifs , stress likes to mess with their minds, and to get out of your head or the negative thinking is to engage in activities that put a focus on your hands or your body such as kneading bread, sketching a picture, knitting, even trying to fold laundry with your loved one you are care giving for; Alzheimer’s patients are able to do this in a lot of cases. Find activities that you can actually share together with your loved one based on their abilities, theirs needs, and their interest. Maintaining a sense of humor often helps and distractions such as watching a funny movie or funny TV show. And a support system is essential.
Stacey Bonner: How important is a support system for a family caregiver?
Angela Hopkins: A support system is essential for the very survival of the caregiver. Family can often be the best source for sharing a caregiver’s schedule to alternate care among those family caregivers. Often times, there are sites on the internet, Caring Bridge is an excellent one that families can refer to to learn how to adapt those schedules or create those schedules. Friends or caregiver support groups can be excellent sources to talk with, share your concerns with and can often help with problem solving. Faith communities can be excellent sources of support because it has been shown spirituality boosts happiness in times of caregiver stress, and many faith communities even offer support with bringing meals, some have adult day care Community resources could be utilized too including private services for hire. There are State governmental programs available if the care receiver meets the eligibility guidelines which are usually based on financial and physical requirements. Respite Care which means a break for the caregiver include services like adult daycare, overnight or weekend care in assisted living centers and can often be available through State governmental programs based on eligibility.
Stacey Bonner: I am sure managing your lifestyle is important when caring for your loved one. I have heard it is important to take care of yourself, so you can take care of your loved one. What can a person do to make sure they are managing their lifestyle in a healthy manner?
Angela Hopkins: It has been wisely said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” So, we must love and take care of ourselves in order to love others. The caregiver should focus on three primary areas for the best and self care. The areas are attitude, skill set, and lifestyle. In attitude, seek optimism; again, get out of your head like we discussed earlier. Welcome change because believe me with caregiving, it is going to come. New challenges frequently arise, so get that expectation in your head right away and do find humor in things, express gratitude, and accept help. With skill set, be mindful of yourself, know your limits, be in tune, communicate when you need help and seek problem solving with your support system. With lifestyle, exercise is the one of the healthiest ways we can care for ourselves. It regulates our sleep and produces good endorphins or filled with chemicals, decreases depression. It boosts energy and helps us remain calm. . Reach out for help and support. Make a plan of action and follow it.
Stacey Bonner: If you have never been a caregiver, you probably will be very hard on yourself if things are not perfect. What advice would you give to this family caregiver?
Angela Hopkins: The caregiver is deceived to believe he or she could possibly be able to take a caregiving journey alone and do it all perfectly in the process. That’s an impossible and unrealistic expectation that many caregivers place on themselves which only sets them up for failure and disappointment. They need to establish and accept in their mind from the beginning that they are going to learning as they provide care and that takes a support system. They should seek professional help though if they really feel like they are too overwhelmed for any of these suggestions or advice or they feel like they are at risk to themselves.
Stacey Bonner: Thank you Angela. Thanks for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast by clicking the “Add New Comment” link at the bottom of this page. If you have a story suggestion, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can use the “Contact Us” link on our website at healthandwellness.vanderbilt.edu.
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