I attended an online presentation from the Parkinson Disease Foundation on coping skills for PD caregivers, in honour of National Family Caregivers Month.
She spoke on how stress impacts the mind-body and introduced a concept called the “self care toolbox”.
1. Stress affects the mind-body
Due to stress, caregivers have chronically elevated levels of cortisol, which can be toxic to your cells!
Also, with increased stress, our telomeres (protective caps of DNA/chromosomes) get shorter! This is related to rapid aging and shorter life expectance.
This makes stress-managment important! But first, we need to recognize the signs of stress…
- sleep deprivation
- panic attacks
- colds, ulcers and other physical complaints
What to do? Tracking these signs of stress and noting the surrounding environment and situation when you feel the sign can help identify triggers/patterns of stress.
2. Self-care toolbox
The following are 7 skills that can help caregivers care for themselves and thus better care for their loved one
- Self-compassion. Caregiving jobs are one of the hardest, so don’t be hard on yourself! Find support, be non-judgmental and know you are not alone.
- Connections. Make good social networks that help you problem solve (support groups, family, friends, formal support). Learn to ASK for help – most people want to help you but don’t know how. Take advantage of formal support.
- Communication. Express your emotions (through journaling, art, counselling, conversation) so you can communicate more effectively and meaningfully with your spouse. *Note: PD changes communication (i.e. lack of facial expression, quiet voice, slow response time, lack of spontaneous gestures), so you need to be more present and engaged.
- Optimism. Change the patterns of automatic negative emotions/behaviours/beliefs. You can change the situation but you can change how you feel about it and behave.
- Flexible/creative problem solving. Identify a problem and come up with a variety of ways to deal with it… try something new and be willing to try again!
- Care for yourself. This is a necessity, not a luxury! Identify pleasurable activities (i.e. morning coffee, walking the dog, exercise with friends) and track how you feel when you are doing this activity… it’s not superfluous if it makes you feel GOOD!
- Take charge. Focus on what you can control.
If you are interested, you can see the entire presentation here.
And a HUGE thank you to all the caregivers for everything that you do! Happy caring and much love.