In last week’s post, Dr. Amy D’Aprix, MSW, PhD, CSA, discussed the four areas of support where caregivers may need to seek out assistance and resources. Today, she identifies the signs of caregiver stress and shares tips on how to manage it, and how to avoid the role of “diabetes police.”
Dr. Amy sees caregiving as a “marathon experience,” rather than a quick sprint. “Typically when a loved one is diagnosed, such as a diagnosis of diabetes, we tend to take all of our emotional and practical resources and put it into the caregiving,” she said. “We focus on it, which is appropriate. That’s what we do when a crisis occurs.”
The problem with that is you can’t sustain crisis behavior. “You have to find ways to develop supportive behaviors that are sustainable,” she said. “To me, that’s why so many caregivers burn out, because they never get out of the crisis mode.”
Some of the signs of stress and living in crisis mode are subtle. “People who are stressed might notice things like changes in sleeping patterns, or eating and drinking patterns,” she said. “You hear people say, ‘I don’t understand why I’m so sensitive.’ If you find yourself irritated and agitated a lot, that often is a sign you’re under a great deal of stress. If you feel exhausted all the time and don’t feel like you can cope, that’s a sign of stress. Our bodies are very good barometers of these things.”
Looking for opportunities to work joy into your life can help with stress levels. “I talk to people about building in mini-breaks during the course of their day,” she said. “If someone has been caregiving for a while, they may have forgotten some of the activities they really enjoy, so I have them make a list of things they find fun and relaxing. Then, I encourage them to start by building in maybe two 15-minute breaks a day, when they can go to their list and decide what they feel like doing.”
Building breaks into your day can help shift your perspective, says Dr. Amy. “Just the mini-break idea can sometimes save people’s sanity. I say the goal is to build some joy back into your life. You don’t have to live in this constant state of overwhelming stress.”
It’s also important to remember how you used to like to spend time together. “I think if someone is caring for somebody who lives with diabetes and it seems like all you talk about is diet and insulin, finding things that you enjoy doing together again is really key,” she said. “Try to move yourself out of being the medication and diet monitor, even for just a half an hour or an hour, and remind yourself of what you liked to do with each other.”
Dr. Amy also sees many people struggle with the idea that they must meet all the needs of the person they’re caring for. “People think, ‘If I were a good daughter or son or spouse or parent, I should be able to manage this whole thing,’” she said. “But the goal is not that you do everything. In reality, the goal is that you make sure your loved one has the best care possible, which usually requires a team of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a professional team; it can be a combination of your family, friends and professionals. That’s a lot more sustainable.”
Becoming the “police” of a loved one’s condition, such as the “diabetes police,” where one nags about health-related behaviors, is another common occurrence with caregivers. Dr. Amy suggests approaching conversations from a partner perspective. Adjust how you present those tough topics to a calm, non-accusatory manner. “You want to be able to communicate, ‘This is how I feel and this is what concerns me because this is what is likely to happen. I don’t want you to go through that and I don’t want to go through that.’”
For example, you may need to talk about how to make sure your loved one can get the exercise they need or make healthy food choices. “Ask what you can do that would be supportive of them being more active,” she suggests. “How could you, as partners in this, create something that’s fun to do together? You could also suggest exploring recipes together to make healthy menu plans.”
The idea of proactively talking through issues and working together to determine what type of support will be the most effective for all parties is sound advice. Many thanks to Dr. Amy for sharing her insights and expertise.
All the best,
Disclosure: Dr. Amy D’Aprix received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.