Manage caregiver stress by creating a 'needs and wants' list.

Managing Caregiver Stress with a Needs and Wants List

by Marcia Howland, Ph. D.

Published March 21st, 2016

Stress can be caused from a combination of lack of sleep, deficient diet, overdoing, lack of personal or group spiritual care, isolation and lack of help. Responses vary from anger, frustration, guilt, fear, depression and withdrawal. Some days an “imprisoned” caregiver may just want to escape. As a caregiver, prepare your “Needs and Wants” list. A balance is desired between needs and wants for the caregiver, the loved one and the entire family. Only doing the needs leads to burnout. Just doing the wants may lead to deficit care. Whether by force or by choice, most caregivers do the best they can plus all the other daily duties of life. For example, today after completing your personal care need, take a 10-15 minute break to find a few puzzle pieces on a card table to satisfy your want for a break.

A balance is desired between needs and wants for the caregiver, the loved one and the entire family.

The other part of caregiving is the loved one’s needs and wants. Each has expectations and stress as well. The level of dependency varies. The basic needs are food, shelter, personal care and transportation. Complete a “needs and wants” list with your loved one. Caregivers can mistakenly try to anticipate needs and wants but miss the mark by not asking. If the loved one is not verbal, ascertain needs and wants from history or watch for physical clues. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your loved one may become discouraged, disillusioned or distressed as a result the caregiver trying to guess what is needed or wanted. For example, after a trip to the doctor, stop for an ice cream cone.

Of course, needs and wants must be kept in balance to avoid caregiver burnout and the loved one’s agitation. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Say “yes” as often as possible. Needs come first; all of the rest are wants. No caregiver can do it all for more than one person. It is not always possible for us to keep up with our own personal needs. So, what makes us think we can add a loved one’s care to what we are already doing? Make some trade-offs. “If you will let me shave you we can have a snack.” “I need to get the mail as soon as we trim your nails.” All work and no play make a caregiver or loved one feel ignored. All play and no work leaves a list of important things to be done. By making a “needs and wants” list, both loved one and caregiver can enjoy a pattern of giving and receiving. Try it. You might like it.

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About Marcia Howland

Marcia Howland, Ph. D. shares how creating a 'needs and wants' list can be an effective tool toward helping you manage stress as a caregiver.

Marcia Howland, Ph. D.

Spiritual Outreach Counselor at Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation

Dr. Howland has been an active board certified clinical hospice chaplain for 15 years and is a renowned public speaker. She has dedicated her career to being an educator and resource person for spiritual care, caregiver support, end-of-life issues and bereavement. She is a valued member of the writing team at Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation.

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