Practical Tips for Caregivers: Six Simple Ways for Family Caregivers to Reduce Stress

By Elizabeth Hanes, RN, author of The Cheerful Caregiver blog.

Family caregivers face a multitude of stressors every single day. Sometimes 24 hours seems like too short a day, while other times it seems too long. One thing is certain: of those 24 hours, every family caregiver needs to carve out a minimum of 30 minutes for herself. Otherwise, caregiver burnout will be right around the corner.

Here are six simple things you, as a family caregiver, can do for yourself to de-stress, recharge, and rediscover the joy that can come from caregiving.

  1. Use aromatherapy. Depending on the specific essential oils you choose, you can employ aromatherapy to boost your mood or calm you down. Diffusing lavender oil into the home environment, for example, promotes a calming effect. On the opposite end of the spectrum, applying peppermint scented lotion can energize you or your loved one. Choose bath salts that soothe your mind and soak away your stress regularly.
  2. Have a good cry. Go ahead. Some days, you can't help it. Caregiving can be a very frustrating endeavor. The 'good days' can be very good, and the 'bad days' can be overwhelming and depressing. If you've had one of the latter type of day, cry it out. Scientists have found that emotional tears contain a unique chemical makeup and that crying may literally be a way for the body to rid itself of stress hormones. So don't be afraid to have a good cry when you need to.
  3. Breathe. You know: it's that thing we take for granted. But don't just take any breath; when you're feeling stressed, close your eyes, lower your shoulders, and take a long, slow, deep breath. Then exhale slowly through pursed lips. When people feel acutely stressed, they tend to raise their shoulders and breathe shallowly. Long, slow, deep breaths promote oxygenation, which counteracts stress.
  4. Meditate. Studies have shown that just 10 minutes of quiet reflection can help a person regain emotional equilibrium. So, the next time your loved one dozes off for a nap, find a peaceful corner, close your eyes, and quiet your mind. Focus on something positive, and try to dismiss distractions. And remember to practice your breathing at the same time.
  5. Dance. You may think it's crazy, but give this a try. If you're having a particularly difficult day, turn on some upbeat music and dance energetically around the living room. The physical exertion will dissipate stress, and you (and your loved one) just might get a big laugh out of it! Which brings us to...
  6. Laugh. Laugh often. Laugh loudly. Laugh lovingly. Family caregiving places us in so many absurd situations. When you recognize one, it's OK to laugh about it. Laughter stimulates positive chemicals in the brain, which makes us feel better. Best of all, laughter is contagious. If you start laughing, chances are your loved one will, too. Then everyone will feel better and more positive. And isn't that what family caregiving should be all about?

Family caregivers too often put their own needs last. If you fall into that camp, don't despair. Just use one of these six techniques every day and discover the benefits of self-care. You'll be a better caregiver for it.