Learning to take the best care of yourself is caregiver job #1.
When you’re a Parkinson’s caregiver, life seems like an endless list of things to do with never enough time to do them. Every day can feel like it goes by in 10 minutes—and lasts two weeks.
As the disease progresses, your caregiving responsibilities will inevitably expand. But it’s complicated. Your loved one may require as much support and supervision as a young child while struggling with the complex needs, wants, and frustrations of an adult.
Most likely, you have been able to manage your stress effectively in the past. But caregiver stress is different.
It’s physical. It’s emotional. It’s often loaded with financial anxiety as well as confusion when symptoms appear then recede then appear again. The challenge of trying to maintain as much independence as possible for the one with Parkinson’s while balancing their safety, comfort, and quality of life can be a chronic source of stress over time.
That’s why learning how to take care of yourself early in your journey as a Parkinson’s caregiver is so important. If you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, too stressed to think clearly, then you can’t be at your best, as a person or caregiver.
First, let’s cover the five fundamentals of managing caregiver stress:
1. Understand that caregiver stress is different.
2. Make your own care and stress management a daily priority.
3. Accept and embrace that you will need help.
4. Build a care team of family, friends, and care professionals.
5. Every time you schedule an appointment or activity for your loved one, schedule a stress-reducing activity for yourself. Put it on your calendar and take it seriously.
Manage your Parkinson’s caregiver stress with a daily action plan.
Got 30 minutes a day? Got five minutes? Got nothing? No problem. Here’s a list of quick, easy stress-management tips to inspire you:
Exercise daily. Walk, jog, ride a bike, swim, dance, take a yoga class, or simply stretch your tired muscles. Whatever helps you to relax, do it. Regular exercise for just 30 minutes a day reduces stress, stimulates circulation, and helps you stay physically and mentally strong for your loved one. And you’ll sleep much better too.
Take a walk where you can hear birds chirping. Bird sounds can reduce cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones produced by the body in response to stress. (It’s hardwired into our brains. When chirping birds are nearby, lions, tigers, and bears are not.)
Spend time with people who make you feel good. (Small children and pets count too!) If you can’t actually get together, then call a friend, ideally one who makes you laugh. Actively seek out people who understand the challenges you face and have compassion and appreciation for you—and what you do as a caregiver.
Edit the people who aren’t supportive. When you’re a caregiver, you simply have to prioritize. That applies to the people you spend time with too. Avoid people who aren’t supportive and compassionate, people who always think they know better than you—or simply bring you down. Life is too short.
Practice deep breathing. The best thing about conscious breathing, you can do it anywhere. In a car, in a doctor’s office, at the pharmacy waiting for your prescription. Inhale slowly through your nose, exhale out your nose. Close your eyes and imagine you’re at the beach, in a hammock, at the symphony, or some other relaxing spot.
Get out of your head and into your body. Find the places where you’re feeling pain or holding tension. With deep breathing, focus your mental energy on that spot in your body, imagining a warm ball of golden light melting away the tension. This is something you can do in line at the grocery store, when sitting in traffic, or while your loved one is napping or in their Parkinson’s dance class.
Take a warm bath. But don’t leave the room while filling the tub. Stay to watch the water flow from the spout. Not only does floating in warm water reduce muscle tension and lower your heart rate, and cortisol levels, simply watching or listening to flowing water can do the same.
Listen to calming nature sounds. (A babbling brook, ocean waves, gentle rainfall, or wild bird sounds.) Play nature sounds throughout your home so you and your loved one can both feel the benefits. Or put on headphones wherever you are and keep the calming power of nature all to yourself.
Laugh—and feed your sense of humor. Watch favorite sitcoms from a time when your life was less stressful. (Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, All in the Family, Sanford and Son.) If you don’t have much time, go to YouTube and do a search for “funny cats,” “funniest family videos,” or anything else that might give you a quick laugh.
Exercise with friends. Stay fit while you’re being social. You can check two stress-reliever boxes at the same time, while avoiding isolation—one of the leading causes of depression and anxiety for Parkinson’s caregivers.
Smile for no reason. The simple act of smiling—even when you’re not feeling it—activates the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, plus those feel-good endorphins, your natural pain relievers. A quick smile can relax your body and elevate your mood while lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
Create a calm zone outside. Place a comfortable chair in a quiet corner of your yard, stretch out on a chaise lounge, or head to a nearby park. Get settled, then do a quick meditation, breathe deeply into your limbs, read something that helps you clear your mind, or just relax for a few minutes and be present in your body.
Create a serenity space inside. In a calm quiet room (or space in a larger room), collect a few things that make you feel good. A favorite photo, your knitting or needlepoint, fragrant flowers, a jigsaw puzzle, headphones and an MP3 player. Make this your designated safe room, a serene place where you can slip away to relax for just a few moments if that’s all you have.
Still looking for more things to add to your stress relief to-do list? Walk a dog or play with a pet. Listen to music that puts a smile on your face. Learn to meditate. Listen to an interesting podcast—and to your body. Your body always knows what you need even when your brain doesn’t.
Need a break and an experienced professional to care for your loved one while you’re taking care of yourself? Honor can help. Thanks to our unique partnership with the National Parkinson Foundation, Honor is able to provide additional training for our Care Pros so they can provide the best possible support for people with Parkinson’s.
If your family is just beginning this journey, you may find our Parkinson’s Caregiver Tips – Starter Guide helpful.