Relieving Caregiver Stress: Quickly, Easily, and At Home With Guided Imagery
Dr. Miriam Franco, MSW, Psy.D., MSCS
Whether a spouse, a parent, or child of a loved one with a chronic illness, the value of the services that the caregiver provides is invaluable on a personal and national level. Approximately 43.5 million unpaid caregivers have provided care in the last year and about 15.7 million adult family caregivers provide care for someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease (Caregiver Disease Facts and Figures).
The toll of caregiving is enormous when insufficient relief from stress and insufficient support exists. The Family Caregiver Alliance has cited Caregiver depression and stress to be a national crisis.
Stress upon the caregiver of family members with dementia has been shown to impact the caregiver’s immune system up to 3 years after caregiving ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.
Family caregivers who provide 36 plus hours per week are more likely than non-caregivers to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. For spouses, the rate is 6 times higher, for the caring of a parent the rate is twice as high.
Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely. this level of stress can take as much as 10 years off family caregiver’s life.
The bottom line is that caregivers need to practice fast, effective, and convenient stress reduction techniques that don’t require months of practice and can easily be incorporated in brief moments of time throughout their day. Relaxation and Guided Imagery (GI) techniques are a perfect fit for any caregiver’s circumstances and can be easily practiced sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting on the phone, before going to sleep, or any brief moment or transition in the day. They are simple yet profound mind-body techniques that restore and maintain a healthy body and mind and gain control of worries. It can radically activate the body’s relaxation response (slower breathing and lower blood pressure) and promote well-being.
First, you learn to lower muscle tension in the body and breathe from the belly to lower stress. Sensory imagery is then evoked, starting with simple centering techniques, such as imagining a safe place or ideal place of relaxation with your senses and then you’re guided to imagine more elaborate sensory exercises. Because the body deeply resonates with sensory images practiced in a relaxed state, GI has been found to reduce pain or headache, improve mood and renew energy. Many studies have documented GI’s efficacy in reducing anxiety, depression and fatigue (Case et al, 2018; Apostolo et al, 2009) in shifting pain experience (Jensen et al, 2009) and its unique ability to improve short-term immune function (Trakhtenberg, 2008). Thus, it’s an ideal tool for any caregiver!
I have taught GI to many caregiver groups (Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, stroke) and participants have found it easier to use and practice than meditation, easier to stay with (especially if they are prone to anxious thinking), a fast and fun way to empower themselves, restore and renew energy and regain purpose and balance in their caregiver role. As a result, I developed a specific GI exercise: Relieve Caregiver Stress that any caregiver can practice at home. It’s available on my new GI app: ImageryWork. Check it out and pass it along to any caregiver who could benefit from it—it’s a gift of love and support.
To learn how to practice
Relieving Caregiver Stress, visit
my new Guided Imagery app