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Posted: January 04, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

Six Ways to Get Rid of Stress

Bill Andrew

In last week's column Planning Your Caregiving Strategy For 2007, I discussed a number of suggestions you could use to plan your 2007 caregiving strategy. The focus of these suggestions was on taking care of yourself as a caregiver. These included:

Don't be a martyr.

Have a backup plan in place.

Check out the local elderly and welfare service agencies in your community.

Check into the availability of adult daycare.

Check into the availability of respite care.

Emphasis was placed on seeking help, help available to you as a spousal caregiver if you just know where and how to ask for it. Hopefully, you were able to include the above in your New Year’s resolutions.

This week, I would like to discuss ways to get rid of the stress that we all incur as caregivers. I have discussed this in the past, but this week I have a new twist for your consideration. The source of what I am about to discuss comes from several well-known physicians with a holistic approach to healthcare -- one a cardiologist and the other a family doctor. Nothing I tell you should be construed as medical advice; however, it is common sense that has been time-tested.

The stress and strain of caregiving often takes its toll in the spousal care role. This is especially true during and immediately after the holidays when faced with sadness, depression, loneliness, resentfulness, etc. These negative feelings must be acknowledged in order spare the pain that is often stored in our hearts; essentially, it is medicine for the heart. This is because the heart, while the physical center of our body, is also the emotional center. We often refer to this mind-body connection in everyday language -- big-hearted, light-hearted, and heavy-hearted. We have heart-to-heart talks with people. We give heart-felt hugs. Sometimes we even wear our hearts on our sleeves.

Our bodies store all of our emotions in our muscles. That’s why we often feel stress and tension in our shoulders and backs -- and why massages are so relaxing. When we are hurt emotionally, as described above, that pain is stored in our hearts. We feel emotional pain harbored in our hearts -- the most central muscle of the body -- through angina, heart attacks, and cardiovascular disease. Since we can’t get a heart massage to relieve the pain, we must find an alternative form of massage. And that alternative heart massage is love -- and your heart cannot be open to love when it is filled with pain.

Many spousal caregivers know in their minds that they need to let go of old hurt and disappointment that leads to the stress and strain we often encounter. But how do you act on that knowledge? Here are some suggestions to consider:

Feel your pain -- and then let it go. Give yourself permission to feel whatever emotions are rumbling inside of you, whether they are sadness, shame, humiliation, anger, or resentment. Don't worry about why you feel the way you do; that is not important. What is important is to just feel the pain. If you feel like shouting, shout. If you feel like crying, cry. This sort of emotional outlet is deeply therapeutic because it allows your body to experience and release feelings that have long been suppressed and disregarded.

Confide in someone close to you. Opening yourself up to someone else can be a difficult and frightening action because it means facing the possibility of rejection by the other person. However, it is critical that you do so if you truly want to heal your heart. If you can’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, you may unconsciously block yourself from reaching out to others -- and others from reaching in to you.

Say, "I am sorry." These may be three of the most important words in the English language. Forgiving family and friends -- even your spouse -- for past transgressions gives your heart permission to become vulnerable again. It gives up your own resentment over things that may have gone wrong in the past and opens your heart to the love and joy that others want to share with you.

Reconnect with family and friends. Call someone who is important to you but from whom you have been disconnected. Reminisce about past good times and laugh about old memories. Get together with family and friends that you have not seen for a while and reestablish connections in ways that will be rewarding to you and to them as they were in the past.

Adopt a pet. While this might seem like a strange suggestion, pets can be fantastic companions that offer us comfort and unconditional love without judging us. You may not be ready to open your heart to another person, but it is a fact that often we can work out some of the issues with a pet before addressing them with family or friends.

Get moving. Regular exercise increases your energy level and relieves your stresses and tension. It also improves your immune system and resistance to infections. Such relief will enable you to be a better caregiver for your spouse.

Unconditional love is life's most powerful healing agent and the perceived loss of love may be our greatest health risk. To create optimal health in all areas of our lives, we must be committed to our mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. By finding our passion and purpose in life, especially as spousal caregivers, we can be better caregivers for our spouses. And isn't that what true love is all about?

Although we often think of the holidays as a time of giving love, it is just as important that we are open to receiving love. By starting now, as an extension of your New Year’s resolutions, you can make that commitment throughout 2007. I will be incorporating the above strategy in my New Year’s resolutions -- will you? I sincerely hope you take these words to heart and open your heart to others around you who can help support your caregiving for your spouse (you cannot do it alone). If you do, you will feel better in more ways than you can imagine.

As you count your blessings as we enter this new year, and as you contemplate any changes you may make to improve your personal health and well-being, please keep one point in mind. While your family, your friends, or your doctor may provide support, empathy, guidance, or other help, you will ultimately discover that no one but you is responsible for your health. And remember, little changes, such as those listed above, can lead to tremendous health benefits for you personally -- and ultimately, for your loved one. And isn't that what caregiving is all about?

Perhaps you have additional suggestions for readers of this column. Perhaps you have benefited from the above suggestions. If so, drop me a line at and I will share your thoughts in a future column.

I wish you and yours a blessed and happy new year. May God continue to bless you and yours on your caregiving journey.


"The most dangerous strategy is to jump a chasm in two leaps."

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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