I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that getting older is filled with a lot of stress. When we are kids, our parents and parental figures often act as our protectors from the day to day stresses and responsibilities that are now commonplace in our lives - bills, work, insurance, you name it. Our parents take care of us, so we can feel free to explore and learn about the world. However, one thing that we don’t always like to talk about getting older is the stress that comes from having to become caregivers in life, for our aging parents, chronically ill loved ones, and more. It can be overwhelming to manage caregiving responsibilities with our own daily lives, and it inevitably affects everyone at some point as time goes on. That is why this week on The Stress Less Show, we are talking about how to manage the stress that comes with caregiving.
Everyone’s caregiving experience is unique which is what inspired this week’s Stress Less Show guest and founder of Caregiving.com, Denise Brown, to shift her career and focus on helping those who are taking care of aging parents, chronically ill relatives, and more. Denise launched Caregiving.com in 1996 and It was the first website to have online caregiving support groups available, have daily caregiving chats and blogs written by family caregivers, and more resources. As a writer, her work initially began after speaking with countless caregivers and hearing their stories; and soon, she had her own story to share as well as her parents began to grow older.
“My dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2004 and it spread in 2015. He had surgery to remove his bladder, a kidney, his ureter and he had unrelated prostate cancer. Six weeks after the surgery, he had a stroke because he had a blocked carotid artery. And then a month later he thought he was having a heart attack and then a week after that my mom started having an internal bleed that they could only stop by removing a third of her stomach.”
Through her personal experiences and her interviews with other caregivers, Denise has discovered valuable tips on managing the stress of caregiving which is why I am so honored that she was able to come on the show and share some of those tips.
Tip #1: Get Clear on Your Priorities
Age, illness and disease do not wait for life to slow down before they affect us and our loved ones. As a result, they often catch us completely off guard and cause our stress to go through the roof as we try to manage all of the new challenges and pain they bring into our lives. Denise recalls her own struggle with having her parents’ health struggles begin as she was growing her website and working a part-time job.
“The struggle was trying to figure out how am I available for my parents because at any moment it seemed like one of them was getting closer to death and I didn't want my business to die. I know that sounds a little crazy to say it that way but I was trying to keep everyone alive including my business”
Taking everything on all at once is hard and that is why Denise’s first tip is to really get clear on your priorities. Where do you need to be focusing most of your attention? For Denise, she knew she needed to make herself a priority.
“I decided that my priority was what was bringing in the money... I kept those priorities and I also shared with my siblings and my parents what my priorities were and everybody was on board about that. They did not want me to add financial distress to an already stressful situation.”
By setting these priorities clearly and communicating them to your loved ones, Denise notes that it removes the guilt she used to feel about not being able to be available 24/7 for her parents.
“I was delivering a series of workshops while my mom was in the hospital recovering from the surgery and I really did not know if she was going to recover, but I was committed to my priorities. I had spent time with my mom before I left. She knew I loved her and cared for her and even though it was difficult, I didn't bring the guilt with me.”
With these priorities, she was able to focus on the fact that she was doing what she needed to do for herself so she could show up completely in her caregiving responsibilities when she needed to while also not creating more stress in other areas of her life. “I think it's helpful for us to think about our priorities driving our decisions rather than our guilt because those decisions driven by guilt are decisions that are going to just really weigh on us and create more stress for us”
Tip #2: Build Your Support on Your Best Day
Often times, we don’t seek out help dealing with stressful situations until we hit a breaking point. However, when we reach that point, it can be 1000 times more difficult to make decisions and seek out resources for ourselves. Seeing this happen as people look for groups and resources on Caregiving.com, Denise stresses that we need to seek out these resources when we are in the right mindset.
“The stress clouds our ability to think clearly and then because they can't think clearly and it doesn't work, they think there is nothing out there for me [and] there is no support. If you build it on your good day when the stress is less and you're able to think clearly, you'll have that support on a bad day.”
It’s important to figure out what activities you can start doing to relieve stress - even for a short time - while you have the clarity to really identify what is and isn’t working for you.
Tip #3: Stop Trying to Prevent Every Bad Thing
Denise’s final tip is probably the most important step in truly releasing the the stress of caregiving. We may feel a desire to prevent the bad things that come with our loved one's illnesses, but preventing all of the negative is impossible. Often, the most necessary lesson we must learn in these times is that whatever happens is out of our hands.
“I think what's hard for us to do is live with that natural cycle of life and understand our responsibility within it. And if we can decide [that we] can't prevent everything bad from happening, it allows us to leave the house. The idea that we have to prevent [the bad] keeps us in the house because we're waiting for the other shoe to drop so we can catch it. Another shoe is going to drop and it's OK that we don't catch it. We don't have to stop our lives. We can keep moving forward.”
If you or someone you know is really struggling with the emotional toll of caregiving, check out Denise’s website, CareGiving.com, to find resources and support groups that will help you feel less alone.
This episode of The Stress Less Show was sponsored by The Stress Less Space, an intentional space for women to relax and recharge away from the chaos of everyday life. Learn more about The Stress Less Space by clicking this link!