Asking for What You Need to Reduce Caregiver Stress

asking-for-what-you-needAs a caregiver, do you ever have difficulty asking for what you need? If so, you’re not alone. This week I’m writing for Jeanine who’s husband had a stroke about a year-and-a-half ago. She recently asked, “How can I keep living like this?”

Jeanine came of age during the Women’s Liberation Movement. She’d been raised to think that a good wife and mother always put everyone else’s needs before her own. The idea that women should have equal rights in the workplace and that we should value our own needs as much as we valued the needs of our husbands and children was radical.

She understands and endorses the principal of women’s independence in theory, but like a lot of women over the age of 50, she’s had a hard time accepting it emotionally. She’s had a particularly difficult time since her husband had the stroke.

For the last year-and-a-half, she’s adapted and adjusted to her husband’s physical challenges. She’s taken on a lot of tasks he used to do. She’s worked hard at generating enough positive energy to prevent him from slipping into depression. But now she’s struggling to keep herself afloat.

In the beginning stages of caregiving, all of the focus is on the care receiver. That’s normal and it’s necessary. But after the initial shock and adjustment is over, we reach a point of transition. Jeanine knows she can’t turn back the clock. She has accepted that her life and marriage won’t ever be what it was before her husband had the stroke, but now she’s realized that she cannot continue to live like this indefinitely.

Yesterday, my advice was to Jeanine was to give herself a caregiver time out. I encouraged her to find some relief from her caregiving duties. I suggested she click on this link: Aging in Place. The organizations listed on this page can provide services that will lighten her load.

Today I would like to urge her to think about what she needs to do to take care of herself. Is she eating right? Is she getting any exercise? Is she staying connected to family and friends? Is she getting any time away from her husband? Does she have anyone she can talk to who understands what it’s like to experience caregiver anger, guilt, depression and grief?

Now that the initial crisis is over, I hope Jeanine will recognize that in order to care for her husband over the long-haul, she must let go of the idea that she always has to put his needs ahead of hers. I hope she can accept the fact that self-care is not selfish. I hope she will identify what she needs and be willing to ask for and accept help. Asking for what you need is not a sign of weakness. It is what we must do in order to maintain the physical and emotional strength we need to meet the challenges of caring for those who can no longer care for themselves.

For more information on strategies for caregiver self-care, visit CaregiverHelp’s Self-Care Module