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The Normalcy of Anxiety
Finding Balance in Caregiving

Feeling a bit anxious and uptight lately? You’re not alone.  We live in challenging times. 
The headline in a local newspaper summed it up quite well: “Anxiety: The New Normal.”

Some people are lucky enough to go through life relatively stress and anxiety free, calmly dealing with life’s challenges and irritations with inner peace, serenity, and acceptance. Then there are the rest of us, who can get stressed out and completely unglued by just about everything and everyone.

“If only my life could get back to normal!” How many times have we said this to ourselves or to someone else?

“If only things were back to normal…life would be so much easier…I’d feel better…I’d have time for myself…I wouldn’t feel so stressed…I wouldn’t feel so depressed.”

So what, exactly, is “normal” these days? Do any of us really feel that we lead “normal” lives? Do we want to? Doesn’t “normal” often mean dull or boring? I don’t know about you, but I like “dull and boring.” I get a lot of things done when there aren’t any meetings to attend, cranky people to deal with, countless interruptions, or crises to address. More often, these days, on top of everything else, some of the crises we need to address are provided by aging family members.

There has never been a time when so many people have lived to be so old. As a result, many of us find ourselves called upon to care for an aging parent, spouse, or other family member. An estimated 80% of the care needed by aging adults to continue living independently is provided by family.

Rosalynn Carter has said “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” In addition to anxiety, caregiving has also become a new “normal.”

As caregivers, we can question if our lives will ever be “normal” again – especially when we know that the condition of the person we care for won’t necessarily get any better.  We grieve the loss of the person who once was, and the relationship we once shared. As caregivers, we can grieve the loss of spontaneity – the freedom to go where we want, when we want, without having to first make plans for the care of those who depend on us for their well-being. Then again, those we care for also lack spontaneity. Whether it is having to rely on others to drive you where you (or they) want you to go, needing help in the bathroom, having others decide when and what you will eat, what you will wear and when and where you will go, is no picnic either.

Something as simple as going shopping or out for dinner can be a major challenge for all involved. Where we go – or if we can go at all – is determined by the accessibility of the bathrooms, whether the restaurant or store offers a comfortable and friendly environment, or how easy it is to maneuver a wheelchair or walker into and out of the building.

As human beings, we are great barometers—reflecting the feelings and attitudes of those around us. It can be extremely stressful to be around someone who is extremely stressed. When we feel stressed, chances are, we will pass that stress on to those around us – whether they understand why they (and we) feel stressed or not. And their stress can add to our stress. Which will add to their stress. Which will add to…you get the idea.

So how can we find or maintain “normal” in our stress-filled world? Sometimes we need to start by recognizing that the way things are is, in fact, “normal” for us, whether we like it or not. Attitude is everything. Expecting the unexpected, accepting what “is,” planning ahead, seeking help when we need it, and a sense of humor can go a long way in finding balance and peace in our “normal” lives.

This is easier said than done, of course. We can start by taking better care of ourselves by giving ourselves time away from care demands – even if that means that we first must make arrangements for the care of our family members.

To do that, we usually have to do something that we don’t like to do: ask for help. Of course, whomever we ask has the right to say no. Which means that we need to get past our disappointment and anger and ask someone else, or seek other options – such as adult day services, in-home or out-of-home respite care.

Sometimes, we just need to make the time to do whatever it is that can give us a boost – even if it is just for a few, precious moments. You can take a nap, go for a walk, take a leisurely bath, get a massage or have lunch with friends. We all have our triggers – things we find relaxing, inspirational, and energizing – things that can give us a new perspective on life. According to heart specialist Daniel Mark, “Optimism is a good thing. The mind is a tremendous tool or weapon, depending on your point of view.”

May your point of view bring you peace, and a renewed spirit.

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