One Breath at a Time
One Breath at a Time

As a caregiver to a loved one with COPD, Holly McBain offers a unique insight into the trials and tribulations this disease has on the patient, the caregiver, and immediate family. Over the course of time, Holly and her mother have encountered a wide swath of issues concerning the disease and its effects on the patient and how it also affects the caregiver.

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How to Decompress and Cope as a Caregiver

Unlike visiting or live-in nurses (who have shift changes), a caregiver for a loved one stricken with COPD and living in your home rarely has a break from the daily activities—you are on duty 24/7, 365 days a year. If your patient is on oxygen therapy continually, the possibility of a spontaneous overnight or weekend getaway is remote at best.  So how do you decompress? How do you cope with the daily stress of caregiving for a loved one living with you?

It’s not always easy. For me, I pick my moments whenever and wherever I can. Sometimes I escape to the grocery store. Sounds pretty pathetic, but getting away for an hour or so shopping for food and other items will remove you from the home situation and make you focus on other things. I can push all the woes of my day (and my Mom’s) to the back of my mine and for just a bit, not worry about her breathing, eating, and medicines.

Another trick I use to calm down or distress is listening to music – in the car, or outside with an mp3 player. I like hearing the music from my youth—pretty much anything from the mid ‘60s through the late ‘80s. When I hear a song from that time frame I am whisked away to memories of places and people from long ago. Certain songs will instantly remind me of a particular moment in time, frozen in my mind but easily retrieved through the lyrics. For me, it is very soothing and relieves my stress.

Sometimes I pull out pictures and family albums in order to go on a trip down memory lane. Each picture is a select moment in time and allows me to relive my past while here in the present. I can reminisce about my childhood and see people long gone but never forgotten. I remember the joy of various holidays as a child and how magical and wondrous everything was and be a kid once again where each day was filled with hope and dreams.

Other times, I take a brief nap, read a magazine, or just browse the Internet looking at various articles and information of interest to me. I learned a while back that it isn’t wrong to want some private time or to steal an hour or two all for myself. It makes me a better caregiver: calmer, more compassionate, and willing to handle anything. Being able to distress and decompress makes you a better caregiver and a better loved one too.

My favorite thing to do to help remove my stress is to have a pajama party with my husband and kids. I fix my Mom her dinner and let her know it’s a “pj party” night. Then, I create a smorgasbord of food with items like cheese cubes, mini-sausages, pizza rolls, carrots, pickles, ham slices, popcorn chicken, and whatever else I can find. I place everything on a large tray and off to the bedroom we go to eat our dinner and watch a movie. Usually pajama party night is on Friday. I get my husband and kids all to myself and just enjoy being with them.

There are times when I cannot take a break even though I might need one. When this occurs, I think about all the things I did with my Mom and our family in the past, and this reassures me that my caregiving is my way to somehow say thank you for being my Mom and always being there for me, no matter what. I know that I can never fully express my gratitude and respect for all she has done, but I can try my best to make her final time with me as pleasant as possible.

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About the Author

Since a COPD diagnosis in 2006, Holly has served as the caregiver for her mother Joan.