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Caring for aging parents: Reduce stress by saying 'no'

I'm sure you are familiar with the slogan, 'Just say no' that Nancy Reagan suggested as part of an anti-drug campaign during the 1980s. I think those words are a good mantra for stressed-out family caregivers to adopt immediately!

When you are caregiving for an aging family member you may feel like a juggler trying to keep all of the balls in the air. If you are finding that the balls are not just dropping but hitting you on the head on the way down, it might be time to exercise your right to, 'Just say no!'



What can I let go of? 

Two of the best questions you can ask yourself to help you in reducing your stress level are, “what can I let go of?” and, “what can I postpone?” It is true, you won't be able to let go of or postpone everything. There are some things you will have to do as a caregiver, things that keep your aging family member safe and secure.

In addition there will be many things you will want to do for this person given that your time with them may be somewhat limited. However, there are other areas of your life you can examine for opportunities to reduce your time and energy commitments.


Simplify your life

This is a time when you want to simplify your life as much as possible. Some of the things you might want to postpone or let go of could include other outside responsibilities that are optional. I suggest you take a few minutes of quiet time to think about this. Get a cup of tea or coffee and look through your appointment book and calendar for the next couple of weeks. Do you really need to learn to contra dance right now? Do you have to be the person who organizes your child's school fundraiser? Ok, so those might not be in your schedule, but you get the idea! Often, when I talked to stressed-out caregivers they are trying to operate in their lives as though nothing has changed except the addition of caregiving responsibilities. And, like most caregivers, you are probably adding caregiving responsibilities to an already full schedule.


How to decide what task are optional

One way to help you decide what is optional is a focusing technique. Start by asking yourself what the most important things are for you to focus on in your life right now. In order for you to reduce your stress, you will need to limit the number of things you are focusing on to about 3 or 4, with caregiving being one of those areas. If you have a job, that will need to be another area. If you have your own family, that will be a third area. You can see that, for right now, there won't be time for much else. I do recommend that you include taking care of yourself as one of the areas you focus on. If you don't take care of yourself you will have nothing to give to the other responsibilities.


What you can postpone 

Once you have narrowed your focus to around 3 to 4 things, then look at your calendar and appointment book for anything that is outside of those areas and begin to postpone or let go of these things. In addition, there will be things within the 3 to 4 areas in which you are focusing that you can let go of or postpone. Sometimes you may need to talk to a friend or someone outside of your caregiving situation for a reality check on what you could hand off to someone else or let go of completely.


3 to 4 most important tasks

It is a good idea to write down these 3 to 4 things and post them near your phone, in your appointment book and calendar, and carry them in your purse or wallet. When someone asks you to do something these can serve as a reminder of what is most important in your life right now. And, they can be very useful in helping you decide when you need to, 'just say no!'

You may feel sadness at postponing or letting go of some of these things. After all, you may really want to learn contra dance! Remind yourself that caregiving does not last forever and that you will have more time in the future; the fact that it doesn?t last forever is one of the bittersweet parts of caregiving.

Investigate new possibilities
Assisted living for seniors reduces many stressors for families. The fact is that seniors (who may be initially reticent) come to realize that retirement homes really are "wonderful" (as many attest to).

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Related Articles:


Caring for your elderly parents—and yourself too


Drug abuse in seniors: Tips for managing prescription medications


Caring for elderly parents: How to get your siblings to help


Is living in a retirement home a positive thing?





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