Caring for a loved one each day is intense. Stress that builds during the day can be hard to shake and may linger on into the night. If left unchecked, this stress can lead to anxiety, relentless worrying thoughts, difficulty sleeping, physical symptoms (like nausea and heart palpitations), and more. If you’ve spent many nights tossing and turning because you’re reliving the day’s events or dreading the day ahead of you, then this article is for you. While stress is a very normal part of providing care, if that stress becomes relentless, it is no longer normal. Today we’ll explore 4 actionable tips you can use to overcome anxiety and worry as a caregiver.
Caregiver Stress Reliever 1: Write it all down. One of the first things you should do when your thoughts feel chaotic is to get them out of your head and onto paper. This process is known as a “brain dump” and it gives your brain permission to let these thoughts go. Without care for the structure of the page, get everything that’s on your mind onto the paper in front of you. Once you feel good and drained, bring out three new sheets of paper, label two of them with “important and urgent” and “important but not urgent” and rewrite the items. Anything that doesn’t fit into those two categories you have permission to let go of or to jot down on the third sheet of paper as a future reminder, whichever feels best for the thought. In the end, you’ll have a prioritized list of actionable items and a clear head. One that is ready to rest in the trust that you’ll remember and handle these thoughts the next day.
Caregiver Stress Reliever 2: Create lists and routines. One of the worst tendencies we as humans (and often even more so as caregivers) do is over-rely on our brains to manage everything.
While a brain dump (see tip 1) is helpful for a massive mental overhaul (such as relief before bed), it’s the little things we ask ourselves to remember that create a sense of constant low-level stress. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’ll be able to remember everything through mental notetaking. The problem with this is that while our brains will hold the information, they aren’t always great with timing.
For example, it often isn’t until you return home from the grocery store without an item you went to get, or until you’ve missed the appointment or due date, that the memory shows up. Instead of relying on our brains, build routines and habits for recurring tasks and make easy-to-find notes and lists for the important things. Here are two examples:
If you worry about forgetting your mother’s morning medications, for example, build a routine and habit around them. It could look something like this: wake up, brew coffee, help mom brush her teeth, notice the medicine bottles you’ve placed strategically next to her toothbrush, prepare her morning medications, pour water for her to take them, then sit down and enjoy the coffee you brewed. By making it a habit that builds on other parts of your existing routine, you’re far less likely to miss it.
If you worry you’ll forget the schedule of doctor’s appointments, make a visible list or calendar that you’ll walk past and see each day.
These exercises alone will give your brain the freedom to feel like it doesn’t need to store (or randomly remind you of) this information, because it’s being reliably stored elsewhere. This frees up your mental capacity for the other things in your day.
Caregiver Stress Reliever 3: Prepare for the worst. When our thoughts run amok, we often generate crazy and highly unlikely scenarios that feel intensely real in the moment. Instead of trying to talk yourself off the ledge each night, maybe you should lean into that fear and prepare for it. For example, if you’re worried that your father may have a heart attack, think through what you would do in that situation. What would be helpful to you at that moment? Then take action:
Pack a hospital bag.
Have a folder containing all pertinent medical documents
Put together a list of family and friends (and their contact information) that you’d be able to call in an emergency
Start learning how to recognize and prevent a heart attack.
This kind of preparation can make you feel more in control of a situation you’d otherwise be afraid of, thus reducing its power over you moving forward.
Caregiver Anxiety Option 4: Have a backup plan for panicked moments
Sometimes it comes out of nowhere. Nothing could have been prepared to would take away the intensity of the feelings you’re experiencing - often a panic or anxiety attack.
Here is one of many techniques to help relieve yourself of panic:
Repeat a mantra.
Examples of mantras from DailyCaring:
This moment will pass and I will be OK
I am safe and well
These feelings will pass and things will be OK
I know I can handle this because I’ve overcome many tough challenges
Everyone is safe and we will all be OK
There is an entire list of techniques for a stressful moment you can find by clicking here.
See also: 50 pleasurable activities for caregivers if you need a pick-me-up on a particularly difficult day.
Caregiving is both a rewarding and tirelessly stressful role. Overcoming anxiety and worry as a caregiver is a difficult, but worthwhile endeavor. It’s important to prioritize your mental health to provide the best care that you can.
If you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC Orange County are here for you. We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.