In these circumstances, it is easy to lose sight of your own needs. However, you must remember that you will be a much greater support to them and better able to make the right decisions, if you are in good health.
It is important to remind yourself that the emotions that you are experiencing at this time are completely normal. However, you must ensure that you monitor any symptoms of stress so that they can be tackled early. It is also likely that you will be going through a grieving process for the loss of your parent/relative in their capacity as someone who may have cared for and supported you in the past. This is a difficult but necessary process and should not be overlooked.
Be kind to yourself and remember why you are making these changes. Whilst they may not be popular, remember that they have been made with your parent/relative’s best interests at heart.
Stress symptoms can occur when you are under a lot of emotional or mental pressure and can have a negative impact on every aspect of your life, which may include your ability to cope when faced with making difficult decisions relating to the care of your parent/relative.
There are many symptoms that you may experience if you are suffering from stress. These include:
becoming easily distracted or forgetful, struggling to concentrate and an inability to make decisions
feeling depressed, anxious or on edge
worrying more than usual
low self-esteem or a lack of confidence
feelings of anger, frustration and defensiveness
physical aches, pains, dizziness and palpitations
physical and mental tiredness or fatigue
becoming tearful and withdrawn or snapping at others
When you are trying to ensure that an elderly parent or relative is getting the care they need, issues relating to a role-reversal may begin to surface. Your parent or relative might want to keep as much autonomy as possible and may feel that you do not have an automatic ‘right’ to make decisions for them, which is often what is required. As well as managing this, you may also be dealing with feelings of grief associated with this role-reversal, where you have effectively lost a parent or relative, and the support they used to provide.
The Five Stages of Grief, a theory put forward by the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, can be applied to any form of personal loss. The cycle can move backwards and forwards through denial, anger, bargaining and depression but will eventually end with acceptance. It is very important to know that the grief will pass and eventually you will adjust to your loss and that the intense feelings usually subside.
To help reduce the impact of stress and deal with loss, there are a number of strategies you can use. NHS Choices has identified the following tips to help:
1. be active: exercise can help to improve physical and mental wellbeing. It can help to clear the mind, allowing you to focus on finding a solution to any problems you are facing.
2. relax: techniques that combine breathing more deeply with relaxing the muscles will help to release tension in your body and clear your thoughts, leaving you feeling better able to cope. NHS Choices provides some simple techniques and Yoga and Tai Chi are both good activities for improving breathing and relaxation.
3. eat well: a healthy, well-balanced diet will not only help you cope with your emotions, but will also increase your energy levels.
4. sleep: if you havetrouble sleeping make sure you have a regular bedtime routine, a comfortable, quiet and cool sleeping environment and try to avoid caffeine, alcohol and heavy/spicy foods 4-6 hours before going to bed.
5. take control: by actively looking for ways to overcome difficulties, you will feel empowered rather than hopeless and this helps to alleviate stress.
6. connect with other people: developing a support network of friends, family and colleagues provides a space to offload if needed and other people often identify solutions and strategies that you might not otherwise have thought of.
7. have some “me” time: scheduling some time into the week dedicated solely to activities that you enjoy doing provides well-deserved time out and can help you to feel more relaxed.
8. avoid unhealthy habits: often, we use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking, drinking alcohol and excessive caffeine, but although these may seem as though they are helping, they usually leave you feeling worse in the long-term.
9. have a positive outlook: shifting your focus to the things that make you happy and that you are thankful for, even just identifying three things every day, helps you to feel more optimistic and focus less on the stressful things you are experiencing.
10. (but allow yourself to feel sad): this is a healthy part of the grieving process and crying helps your body to release tension.
11. accept the things we cannot change: we do not have control of everything and you cannot necessarily affect the way that your parent/relative reacts to any changes in their care or living situation. Try to recognise that you have done your best, accept what you cannot change and concentrate on what you can control. By focusing on this you can reduce feelings of anxiety or stress connected with this issue.
Oakdale is a not for profit social enterprise, specialising in the provision of a range of counselling and therapy services