Coping With Stress Of Taking Care Of Elderly Parents


Full-time caregivers of elderly parents have a great weight on their shoulders.

However, even part-time caregiving has its fair share of stresses and emotional/energetic strains. This is particularly true if you’re in what’s known as “The Sandwich Generation” (sandwiched between aging parents and kids who still live at home) OR if yourself or someone in your household requires extra care and attention already.

Thus, those taking care of elderly parents must prioritize their own well-being by creating coping mechanisms that are healthy and sustainable. The alternative is “going down with (or before!) the ship…”

5 Ways To De-Stress & Gain Support When Taking Care Of Elderly Parents

If you’re just embarking on the caregiving path, read our 10 Tips on Caring for Aging Parents at Home, which form a healthy and informed foundation for caregiving and your options. The post focuses on some of the more nitty-gritty aspects of homecare assessments, creating a safe place for parents to age safely, home-based care options, and so on.

For this post, let’s focus on coping strategies based on your needs as a person. These are five of the best ways to alleviate debilitating stress and to gain much-needed support as you continue taking care of elderly parents.

1. Set healthy caregiving boundaries

Sometimes, caregivers jump in running because there’s an immediate fire to put out; and that fire leads to some more fires or burning cinders, and those start some more fires. Before you know it, your life is co-opted without your permission, and it’s harder to backpedal when that line is crossed.

Instead, we recommend reading this fantastic article from the Huffington Post, The 5 Lessons in Setting Boundaries That Every Caregiver Must Learn. It begins, “It seems like I’ve been exhausted for 20 years…” Don’t let that be you.

Boundaries allow you to be a heart-centered, attentive and compassionate caregiver that operates from a regenerated – rather than depleted – place (most of the time).

For example:

  1. Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you have to say, “yes,” or that you should.
  2. It’s not your job to make everyone comfortable all of the time.
    Guilt won’t kill you (but it may signal you need some personal therapy or a support group – more on that below).
  3. Set boundaries with yourself (your internal Super Hero must hear the words, “no” or “I can’t commit to that right now,” once in a while or s/he takes over)
  4. Your being is more important than your doing (pleasing others is a false pleasure if it becomes your perpetual MO).

2. Consider a support group (better yet, a therapist)

If you have the time and the means, we heartily recommend finding (or revisiting) a therapist you love. You may need to go regularly, or you may only need to check in every once in a while to re-center, learn relevant coping skills and to establish aforementioned boundaries.

Many counseling centers or clinics offer affordable options (individual and/or group), and you may have forgotten or missed that your health insurance covers a certain number of therapy sessions per year (depending on the policy).

Another lifeline of therapy-like support is joining or attending a support group for caregivers. Support groups can provide the reassurance that you are not alone, along with plenty of space to listen, share, learn, absorb and grow. Most of them involve a whole lot of laughter as well.

Similarly, you may find community-based support services for seniors help to alleviate many of the concerns or needs your parent(s) has.

3. Take advantage of respite care

You need a break. From the big-picture perspective, your self needs time to take care of yourself.

From the putting-your-own-oxygen-mask-on-first perspective, failure to take time to address basic needs (doctor/dentist appointments, exercise, occasional social outings) to the seemingly-“extra” needs (hair/nail appointments, massages or acupuncture, book club,etc.), your reluctance or refusal to take time off actually hurts – rather than helps – your parents because you are a physical/mental collapse waiting to happen.

Do take advantage of respite care, be it willing friends, family, volunteers, church or religious center members, neighbors, etc., or by enlisting the help of professional respite care providers. Either way, your ability to be a good caregiver will be the better for it.

4. Ask for help and say, “Yes!” when help is offered

Little-known secret: Caregivers often become control-freaks, even if they weren’t that way before. All of a sudden, nobody can make a meal like they can; in fact, it turns out that once they start caregiving, all of a sudden nobody in the whole world knows how to (fill-in-the-blank) as well as they can. Unfortunately, this “side-effect” of caregiving becomes a caregiver’s worst enemy.

Instead, breathe deep and make yourself ask for help when you need it, even if deep down, you know their help pales in comparison to how you do things (wink!).

Breathe deep and say, Yes! to any opportunities to get a break or receive some help. Feel free to give specifics to those who say, “Let us know if you need anything…” (would you do some laundry? would you take this list with you to the grocery store? would you freeze and store some leftovers when you have them? Can you come sit for a couple of hours on Wednesday evening?).

By saying, “yes!” to help, creating opportunities to allow others to care and give in their own way, you’ll ultimately be less stressed, have more time/energy for your life and provide more social outlets and engagement for your parent(s).

5. Focus on the small positives

There are times when the way may seem bleak – and that’s when you’ll want to shift your focus from the big to the little. What are the smaller positives or successes you had that day?

Celebrate them, write about them, voice record them, text them to a compassionate partner or friend:

  • I was able to take a shower today!
  • We had the sweetest photo album journey after lunch!
  • I’m proud of what I’m doing, even though it’s really hard!
  • We made my grandmother’s pasta recipe from scratch!
  • I finally put the laundry away!
  • My son/grandson napped in Nana’s lap!
  • We had a wheelchair/walker/chair- or bed-bound dance party today!

Remembering that the little diamonds in the dark rough keep you going – even when it feels like you can’t keep it up (and then you should re-visit #4).

Taking Care Of Elderly Parents While Also Caring For Your Needs

Having a difficult time, or feel like you’re unable to find center while taking care of elderly parents?

Never underestimate the power of an in-home assessment from a licensed home care agency. Even if you forgo their services, you’ll glean all kinds of insight and recommendations about how to make your life easier and less stressful – not to mention tips of managing the stress of taking care of elderly parents.

You may also be interested in these articles related to caring for elderly parents:

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