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How To Care For Yourself When Your Job Is Caring For Others

Updated on November 13, 2015
Chantelle Porter profile image

Chantelle has been a mom to a son who has autism for the past 24 years. Creating a happy life for her family makes her heart sing.

Smiling Latte
Smiling Latte | Source

After 22 years of caring for my son who has autism, he was diagnosed with kerataconus, a disorder of the cornea that in some cases can lead to blindness. Sadly, we found out that he had very little vision in his left eye and would require a cornea transplant. Several months prior, my father who had been having quite a few health problems, was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Faced with helping two ill patients, I felt I may collapse from the stress. Here's I how cope and maintain a happy outlook despite facing large medical challenges.

Signs Of Caregiver Stress
Signs Of Caregiver Burnout
Anxiety or depression
Less energy
Feeling tired
Catching every cold or flu that goes around
Difficulty sleeping
Constantly exhausted
Overreacting to minor irritations
Neglecting your own needs
New or worsening health problems
You get no satisfaction from caregiving
Difficulty concentrating
You can't relax
Resentment
Increasing impatience and irritablility
Drinking, eating or smoking too much
Feelings of helplessness and hoplessnes
Neglecting other responsibilities
 
Cutting back on leisure activities
 
Signs and symptoms of caregiver stress and burnout from Mayo Clinic.

Focus On Wellness

It was about 6 years ago that my father became ill and I had to help my mom care for him as well as care for my son. Succumbing to the stress, I ate junk food and gained 60 pounds! I really went into a tailspin. I stopped exercising and really didn't take good care of myself.

Fortunately, I have a loving husband who stands with me and helped me lose weight and get back into exercise. We are avid bicyclers and have done most of the trails in northern Illinois as well as trails in Michigan and Wisconsin. We have adopted a whole foods, plant-based diet which has helped my blood pressure return to normal as well as lower my cholesterol levels.

You aren't any good to anyone if you're sick yourself. Make a point of eating healthy even if it means spending a bit more on groceries per week. Go to the gym, walk the dog, put on your Fitbit and climb the stairs in your house. Feeling physically slow and lethargic made me feel sad. I now have more energy and feel better physically. Mind you, I do still have my chocolate moments but I cope better with regular exercise and healthy foods.

For those of us who care for loved ones with dementia and/or autism, sleep hygiene can become a major concern. My father roams around the house at night, not necessarily sure of where he is. My mother is 80 and she can't physically go without sleep on a regular basis. My son also has his nights where he can't sleep and is quite loud, disrupting our sleep. We have hired night-time help for my mother so she doesn't need to be up with my dad. My son's sleep habits are not so bad at this point where we need to hire help, but I can see a day where it will be necessary. Going without sleep can adversely affect your health so coming up with a solution that is practical and affordable may not be easy but it is necessary.

Reach Out

Suffering in silence benefits no one.

  • Ask for help from friends and family. Even if they can't provide all the help you need, even a few hours a week to simply get out of the house can give some much needed breathing room.
  • If you are a member of a religious organization, many people are willing to cook meals, provide rides to and from doctor appointments or just spell you an hour so you can get out of the house and take a break.
  • Speak with your doctor. Many physicians, particularly those who work with the elderly, can refer you to resources in your community that can help out.
  • Contact your state's department on aging or disabilities. Many states have programs that help seniors, as well as the disabled, remain in their homes. Their may be money available to you that you aren't even aware of.

How do you prefer to handle the stress of caring for a loved one?

See results

Get Up, Dress Up, Make Up, Show Up

Who hasn't had one of those days when you just don't want to get out of bed? When you're caring for two people that just isn't an option but wallowing in self pity makes for a pretty crummy day. So when I'm having one of those days I do as Dr. Phil says, "fake it until you make it".

I actually did get this strategy from one of the Dr. Phil shows from long ago. He referred to it as "behave your way to change". So everyday, unless I am ill and can't get out of bed, I get up, shower, put on a nice outfit (no sweats), do my hair and makeup and head out. I make a point of attending book club, walking the dog or simply grocery shopping looking my best. it doesn't make all my problems go away, but it does make me feel better about myself, which helps.


The Faces Of Autism

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My son, Zackary, about age 14A child who has autismA child who has autismA child who has autism
My son, Zackary, about age 14
My son, Zackary, about age 14 | Source
A child who has autism
A child who has autism | Source
A child who has autism
A child who has autism | Source
A child who has autism
A child who has autism | Source

Laugh, A LOT!

When I was younger and unmarried, I really enjoyed movies that were heavy on drama. Now that my life is as dramatic as it gets, I can't laugh enough. I love funny movies and my favorite is "Something About Mary". I love collecting funny stories and jokes off the Internet. I actually put together a scrapbook of my personal favorites. I read at least one every day to lighten my mood. It feels good.

Of course, having a good laugh is always better with friends. I like to post one joke a day on Facebook. I'm not the only person who has some tough moments so I figure it's good to share. I always call my husband at least once a day to share a laugh with him. He has a stressful job too and needs it. Laughing feels so good. Try it. You'll like it.

The Faces Of Alzheimers

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Ronald ReaganCharles BronsonCharleton Heston
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan | Source
Charles Bronson
Charles Bronson | Source
Charleton Heston
Charleton Heston | Source

Help Out

While not a traditional strategy to reduce stress, I find it relaxing and healing to help others. The question becomes what to do that feels good to help others emotionally while not adding to my work load.

I love to bake. I find it therapeutic as well as creative. I love to make up new recipes and also decorate cookies and cakes. My son also loves to bake. Once a month we bake cookies like crazy and deliver them to a shelter that gives them out to homeless teens. It feels good to help others while practicing a hobby we love. If we are having a bad week, we can push our "cookie date" to a different day without letting anyone down.

Stay In The Present

Consciously staying in the present keeps your mind from going down a dark path. Just like you let the past go because what's done is done, don't think too much about the future. Enjoy today. Have that birthday party. Go on the vacation of your dreams. Stay connected to all your family members now, they may not be here to tomorrow. Don't wait to have your child's birthday party "when he can handle it better". Live in the now and make joyful, lasting memories.

Percentage Of Adults Ages 40 - 59 Who:

Have a parent 65+ and are raising a minor child or supporting an adult child
47%
Provided financial support to a parent 65+ or child any age in the past year
15%
 
 
Figures show are for the year 2012 and are provided by the Pew Research Center

© 2015 Chantelle Porter

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    • Chantelle Porter profile image
      Author

      Chantelle Porter 2 years ago from Chicago

      drbj and dirt farmer, thank you so much for stopping by. I appreciate your kind words and support.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 2 years ago from United States

      Sounds like you're not just "faking it"these days but really "making it." I especially like your last quotation. It's so true. All sorts of things happen in life, and there's no way to control them, but we can control how we respond to them. I wish you all the best. Take care, Jill

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 2 years ago from south Florida

      Your advice, Chantelle, is realistic, inspiring and practical - all at once. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share it.

    • Chantelle Porter profile image
      Author

      Chantelle Porter 2 years ago from Chicago

      So sorry about your Dad. Glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      Glenis Rix 2 years ago from UK

      Excellent advice, particularly about making joyful, lasting memories. My father died recently, aged 91. I had so caring responsibilities for him and I'm so glad that I spent part of every day with him for the past 4 years, since mother passed. Voted up.