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Four Words to Avoid a Lot of Caregiving Stress

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There’s just no getting around it; it’s stressful to be a caregiver. It doesn’t matter who you’re caring for or what their condition, the daily sacrifices, decisions, and situations take their toll.

As a caregiver myself, I can tell you that one of the most stressful aspects is dealing with well-meaning friends and family who want to help. The reasons that it is stressful are many, but it all boils down to a conflict between what they want to do for you what you actually want them to do.

As a caregiver you must deal with people who think they are being helpful by giving you advice that you don’t want or need, people who insist they know what’s best for you, people who want to do what they want to do whether you like it or not, etc.

There seems to be this tug-of-war between what people want to do and what caregivers want and need, complicated by both parties being afraid to hurt or stress the other.

Whether you are the caregiver or a well-meaning friend or relative, here are the four words you need to know: ask, tell, be honest.

For caregivers: remember that well-meaning people are just that, and they will be happy to know what you want and need. But you have to tell them! Give them some guidance regarding what you want and don’t want. Be honest and don’t let them tell you what they think you “should” want. Does that seem rude? Maybe. You don’t have to be rude about it, but if they don’t like it that’s just too bad. One thing is for sure; if you don’t make your preferences known you have little chance of getting what you want.

For you well-meaning folks who want to help: ask the caregiver what they would like you to do and, just as importantly, what they don’t want you to do. For example, do you want to come for a visit? That desire may be very strong in you, but if it will be too much for them then you shouldn’t. They, and only they, can decide what is too much and you must respect that decision. Don’t take it personally if they don’t want you to come. Would you want your visit to cause more stress than they already have? If so, you need to re-examine your priorities.

What got me started on this? A very dear friend of mine just suffered a massive heart attack. His wife wrote to tell me about it and I immediately wanted to help; of course, that’s what people naturally want to do.

As I started to write about what I wanted to do, I realized that I was suddenly on the other side of the equation. I’m used to being the caregiver, not the well-meaning friend. Instead, I asked her, “How can I help? I’m happy and anxious to do anything you want, but you have to give me some guidance so I don’t become one of those pains-in-the-neck that I complained about so much when I was in your position. If you prefer that I stay on the sidelines that’s okay too, so please be honest and I won’t be offended.”

She was very grateful.

The bottom line is to communicate. Caregivers must tell people what they want and don’t want, and everyone else must ask what the caregivers/patients want and don’t want.

That is the best way, in fact the only way, to reduce everyone’s stress during an already stressful time.

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Edited by Shannon Koehle

Add a Comment1 Comments

Dave Balch,Thank you so much for this article I have been through alot myself with my husband he had cancer and died 4 years ago.My mother passed away last year and now my dad has kidney failure and I am taking care of him god knows it hasn't been easy for me but I am doing my best for both of us.I do not have anyone really to help relief me of my caregiving duties but I have learned alot since my husband passed away.I know I need to take care of myself emotionally that one was a big issue for me.I will never learn enough about this caregiving issue and how other caregivers are dealing with their loved ones.It is the toughest thing anyone has to go through and I thank god people like us have each other to lean on.Thank you so much for all of this information.

July 28, 2011 - 9:32am
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