Advice From The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Aging and Disability Services Administration (ADSA):

Caregivers often feel guilty and frustrated because they think they're not doing enough. The holiday season can create more stress - there are more things to get done, and a greater sense of loss of the things you and your loved one used to do.

Studies show that the majority of those who provide major care for their parents experience stress. This is a serious concern because prolonged stress can have serious physical and emotional consequences.

What Caregivers Can Do

When you are caring for others, taking care of yourself and your needs is essential to being able to provide care over time. There are some things you can do to nurture yourself and cope with stress.

Take care of your health.

• Eat nutritious meals. Enjoy holiday treats, but don't give in to stress-driven urges for lots of sweets.

• Get enough sleep. If you are awakened at night, try napping during the day to make up for your sleep.

• Exercise regularly. Try to find someone to exercise with - it will keep you going.

• Treat depression. If you have any symptoms of depression (extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death), see a doctor right away. Depression is an illness that must be treated.

Maintain or establish social contacts. This may require advance planning, but it's worth it. Isolation increases stress, while having fun, laughing, and focusing on something beside your problems can help you keep your emotional balance. This helps you, and ultimately makes you a better caregiver, too.

Call on your friends and relatives for help. Make a list of tasks you need help with and ask friends and relatives if they would contribute regularly or even occasionally.

Use community resources. There are many community resources to help you, such as geriatric care managers, meal or shopping services, information and referral services, and volunteers from faith-based organizations or civic groups.

Try to find time for yourself to unwind when stresses pile up. Do something you enjoy such as reading, walking, listening to music. Some people find it helps to meditate or use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or visualizing being somewhere that makes you feel happy or calm. Be nice to yourself!

Organize as much as you can. Use some of the following strategies to help feel less overwhelmed.

• Make a list of what needs to be done and get the most important things done first.

• Pace yourself. Don't overwork yourself some days to the point of exhaustion.

• Set limits. Learn to say "no" - even to your parent.

Most of all, feel good about your accomplishments as a caregiver.

Find and use resources that can help you - you are not alone!

• Caregiver kits

Includes a caregiver's handbook, caregiving tips and resources. Call toll free (800) 422-3263 and request a "Caregiver's Kit."

• Local services to support unpaid and other informal caregivers

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out information on the Family Caregiver Support Program. Or call (800) 422-3263 to find the number of the program located in your community.

• Online

Visit the online publications and links to useful health and caregiving Web sites at (www.adsa.dshs.wa.gov).

• Eldercare Locator

The Eldercare Locator Web site has information on how to locate the nearest area agency on aging and a wide variety of community services to support older adults. Toll free: (800) 677-1116. URL: (www.aoa.gov/ )

• Benefits Checkup

Hundreds of programs exist to help seniors today. The National Council on the Aging has created this Web site. It is an easy way to find programs that can help you and your loved one. URL: (www.BenefitsCheckUp.org)

• Books at the library

"How to Care for Aging Parents" by Virginia Morris. New York: Workman, 1996.

"Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others - A Caregiver's Survival & Renewal Guide" by Lawrence M. Brammer, Ph.D. and Marian L. Bingea, M. A. New York: Vantage Press, 1999.

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