NEW YORK — Stress doesn’t just affect your mood—it can have long-term health impacts as well if you don’t take steps to manage it constructively. For individuals who face the stressful task of caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing six steps to reduce caregiver stress as part of National Stress Awareness Month (April).
“Finding ways to manage and reduce stress is of paramount importance for every Alzheimer’s caregiver—untreated stress can lead to physical, mental and emotional caregiver burnout,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “National Stress Awareness Month is a great time for caregivers to make an important investment in self-care by enhancing their stress-coping skills.”
Here are six steps caregivers can take to manage and reduce stress.
• Be adaptable and positive. Your attitude influences stress levels for both you and the person you’re caring for. If you can “go with the flow,” and avoid fighting the current, that will help you both stay relaxed—conversely, becoming aggravated or agitated will increase the chances that your person will as well. Focus on how to adjust to the situation in a constructive way.
• Deal with what you can control. Some things are totally out of your control, such as the coronavirus pandemic. What is in your power to control is how you respond and react to these outside factors. Concentrating on finding solutions can help make the problem itself a little less stressful.
• Set realistic goals and go slow. Everything cannot be resolved at once, nor does it need to be. Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations. Prioritize, set practical goals, do your best to achieve them, and take things one day at a time.
• Mind your health. Inadequate rest, poor diet and lack of exercise can all exacerbate stress (and cause other health problems as well). As best you can, make it a priority to get sleep, eat right, drink plenty of water and find ways to be active. You cannot provide quality care to a loved one if you don’t take care of yourself.
• Clear and refresh your mind. Exercise, yoga, meditating, listening to music or even taking a few deep breaths can all help relax the mind and reduce stress. Find something that works for you and do it regularly!
• Share your feelings. Disconnecting from your support structure and staying bottled-up increases stress. Whether it’s with a loved one, trusted friend or a professional, don’t be reluctant to talk about your stress, because that can actually help relieve it!
The AFA Helpline is available seven days a week to help provide information and support regarding caregiver stress and other caregiving questions. Connect with a licensed social worker by calling (866) 232-8484, web chatting at www.alzfdn.org or sending a text message to (646) 586-5283. The web chat and text message features can serve individuals in more than 90 different languages.