Being a caregiver along with my peers has its rewards. Sharing special moments with those you are caring for is one reason as well as feeling good about being there for those who need care is another reason. It gives us a sense of purpose.

But there is a definite downside that also comes with caregiving: stress! Caregivers are much more stressed out than those who do not have this role. Caregivers of people with dementia experience higher levels of stress than other caregivers. This isn’t surprising when you consider dementia caregivers tend to provide more hours of care and extensive assist with personal cares and for some the management of finances.

Stress, we know, is an unavoidable fact of life. Stress in small doses can be an ally, helping us to rise to challenges. But when stress is long-term, it can cause all sorts of problems. Exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, irritability, muscle tension and increased blood pressures are typical of too much stress.

The key to reducing caregiver stress and improving your sense of well -being is by practicing self-care. This is easier said than done when you are juggling a million things and feeling drained. But neglecting taking care of yourself likely will make things worse in the long run. So, here are some self-care ideas you can try.

• Get some support. Don’t go it alone if caring for a family member in your home. Ask family, friends or neighbors for the day to day task. Join a support group for caregivers. Talking with others who understand what you’re going through can be a great stress reliever.

• Take time for yourself. It is vital to your sense of well-being to step outside your role of caregiver and have some “me” time. Find time each day to do something that you enjoy! Taking a hot bath, sitting in the sunshine, chatting with friends or playing with your pet are a few ideas. Community resources that offer respite care can also give you breaks from your caregiving responsibilities.

• Learn to relax. Relaxation techniques can help you slow down and focus your mind so you can think more clearly, and this can help ease stress. One easy way to relax is to practice deep breathing. Breathe in through your nose. Hold for three seconds and slowly breathe out through your lips.

• Stretches. Muscle tension is common to stress and a simple way to loosen up is to do neck, shoulder and arm stretches. For your neck, sit up and tuck in your chin. Place left hand on right side of head. Gently pull your head to left and hold 10 seconds. Switch sides and repeat. For your shoulder and arm, place your hands together and lock the fingers. Raise your hands above your head with your palms down. Hold for 15 seconds and relax.

• Enjoy a healthy diet. Go for plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and healthy fats.

• Get enough rest. A good night’s sleep or even a nap can make the whole world look better! Get up at the same time each day. Avoid caffeine later in the day. Spend some quiet time, or listen to soothing music to unwind a bit before going to bed.

If you can’t seem to get any relief and the stress becomes overwhelming, consider talking to a professional such as a counselor, clergy, social worker or family doctor. Also keep in mind that learning to manage stress takes time. On some days you will manage stress better than others. Keep taking small steps. These will carry you forward toward your goal of a less stressful life.

Pam Meyer is the Wellness Director at Benedictine Living Communities –Wahpeton.

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