Make Caregiving a Choice and Reduce Your Stress

One of the hot spots of stress in caregiving is feeling as if you have no choice about being a caregiver. People who choose to be caregivers still experience stress, but not nearly as much as those who feel that caregiving is somehow being forced on them.

The reason? Because when we choose our actions, we feel in control of our lives. And the more we feel a sense of control over our lives, the less stress we feel. So, one sure way to decrease your caregiving stress is to view caregiving as a choice, rather than as an involuntary role you’ve been coerced into.

You may be someone who feels that caregiving is definitely not a choice, but rather a role that has been foisted upon you. This doesn’t mean you don’t love the person for whom you are caregiving; it just means you don’t feel like had a choice in taking care of him or her. Maybe you are the only family member available or involved with your older relative. Or perhaps you are the “default” caregiver in your family -- the person everyone just expects or assumes will do it.

Whatever your reason for feeling coerced, there is good news. You can choose to make a new choice at any time! You can stop, reexamine at the situation, and make a new choice.

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Four ways to increase your sense of choice and gain control of your caregiving experience:

1. Stop keeping score. If you are the “default caregiver” or the person who lives the closest, determine what you want to do as a caregiver, regardless of what others do. Here’s an exercise I use with caregivers who have non-participating family members: Pretend there are no other family members. Then list those caregiving tasks you are willing to do without resentment. More than likely, you will discover that your list doesn’t differ much from what you are currently doing! The only difference is that you may resent doing these tasks because there are other family members who could be helping but are not. Now the key to reduced stress? Remind yourself that you are choosing to do these things -- despite what anyone else does or doesn’t do.

2. Ask others to do more, but detach yourself from the outcome. Not only are you the are only one responsible for your own behavior, but you are also the only one who can control your own behavior. So make a choice to ask for help -- then do your best to accept their responses, whatever they may be!

3. Practice a one-day-at-a-time philosophy. When I ask caregivers if they can handle their caregiving responsibilities today, they usually reply “yes”, They often quickly add “it’s the unknown future that scares me.” So, focus on what you can choose to do and control today and let tomorrow take care of itself! Endless worrying is pointless and creates needless stress.

4. Make your choices in a conscious way. Sometimes just repeating, “I choose to be a caregiver for my Mother today” consciously reminds you that this action is a choice you are making. Many people I’ve shared this technique with report feeling empowered -- it’s a reminder that ultimately we are free to choose the intentions and actions that control our lives.


Dr. Amy

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How do you reduce your stress as a caregiver? Share your tips in the Comments section below.

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