Aging Matters: Strategies for caregivers to manage, relieve stress

Nearly 80 percent of all long-term care is provided by spouses, children, grandchildren, neighbors, hanai family and friends. Care can range from occasional help with grocery shopping to full-time care.

When care is minimal, most caregivers can juggle these tasks with their other family, work and community responsibilities. But when care becomes more regular, it can create stress for both the caregivers and the care receivers.

One important skill for caregivers to develop is stress management. Successful stress management strategies are individual. Plans that work for one person may not work for another. The following steps can aid in developing a plan that eliminates some stressors and fits both your personality and situation.

* List your sources of stress. Common sources include too many responsibilities, fear of the unknown, constant anxiety, financial concerns and many more. Take a few minutes to list your stressors.

* Identify the sources over which you have some control. Place a check mark by those you can do something about and then circle one you’d like to tackle right away. For example, you may circle “too many responsibilities.”

* Brainstorm ways to address the stressor. Be creative and include others in the brainstorming. In the “too many responsibilities” example, the caregiver’s list may include asking for help with meal preparation or hiring someone to provide personal care tasks.

* Take action. Choose and implement one or two specific action steps from the brainstorming list. For example, the caregiver may decide to ask his/her adult children to prepare and deliver one or two meals a week.

Some caregiver stressors cannot be eliminated. In these cases, a short break from caregiving may help the caregiver to relax, refocus, and re-energize. The following list includes simple stress-relieving activities from local caregivers:

* Read something enjoyable.

* Watch a good movie.

* Call a friend.

* Pamper yourself.

* Dance.

* Take a walk.

* Listen to relaxing music.

* Pull weeds.

* Go shopping.

* Spend time with children, grandchildren or friends.

* Go snorkeling.

* Take a nap.

* Sing.

* Laugh.

* Attend a support group.

* Bake something delicious.

* Breathe deeply.

* Exercise.

For the complete list, visit the brochures “101 Ideas for Managing Caregiver Stress” at

The most effective stress-relieving activities are those that are simple, enjoyable and can be built into an already busy schedule. Consider making a list of your own and placing it on a bathroom mirror or other visible location. Choose at least one activity a day or a week and complete it.

Many community resources are also available to aid Maui caregivers in balancing the duties and strains of caregiving. One of the first contacts a caregiver should make is the Maui County Office on Aging. MCOA provides in-depth assessments and identifies resources and supports that help the older adult and the caregiver. Some of these resources include respite, education, and home delivered meals.

A particularly helpful resource is the six-week Powerful Tools for Caregivers course sponsored by MCOA and the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension. This course focuses on providing caregivers with tools and resources to thrive, not just survive. For additional information about this course, contact either MCOA at 277-7774 or UH Cooperative Extension at 244-3242.

Although nothing can eliminate caregiver stress, there are many things that can be done to manage it. By reaching out, caregivers realize they are not alone and that local resources are available to help.

* Heather Greenwood is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters will cover topics of interest to the aging Maui community and will appear on the third Sunday of each month.