Caregiving can be both incredibly rewarding and difficult. It feels wonderful to help a loved one in need, but juggling the responsibilities of caring for another adult while managing your own affairs can be understandably stressful. While caregiver stress is common, prolonged stress can devastate your health over time. In this article, we will discuss the common causes of stress as a caregiver, the symptoms of prolonged stress, and how to manage stress as a caregiver.
Who Gets Caregiver Stress?
If you are a caregiver, you are at risk of experiencing caregiver stress.
You are a caregiver if you provide physical, financial, emotional, or another form of regular support to an aging or ailing loved one (spouse, sibling, parent, child, friend, grandparent, etc.). Caregivers can be either formal (paid professionals) or informal (unpaid caregivers). Informal caregivers are known as family caregivers. If you’re not sure whether you qualify as a family caregiver, click here to take our Am I a Caregiver? Quiz.
What is Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress results from feeling overwhelmed or stretched too thin because of your caregiving duties (whether that’s due to juggling care with other responsibilities, feeling ill-equipped to handle the level of care/duties of care, less sleep, fewer hours to yourself, anticipatory grief, or something else entirely).
The symptoms of prolonged caregiver stress include:
- Feeling increasingly frustrated or resentful.
- Unexplainable or elevated levels of anxiety, depression, irritability.
- Feeling tired and run down no matter how much sleep you get.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
- Overreacting to minor nuisances.
- Frequent headaches or other aches and pains.
- New or worsening health problems.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Drinking, smoking, or eating more.
- Gaining or losing weight.
- Neglecting your other responsibilities.
- Cutting back on the things you enjoy.
How to Manage Stress as a Caregiver
Now that you understand what causes stress and what it may look like, it’s time to go over how you can avoid or treat it. Here are some ideas for managing stress as a caregiver.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
You are of better service to your loved one if you’re physically healthy yourself. Don’t let your help for your loved one come at the cost of your own wellbeing. Make sure you:
- Visit the doctor for yourself regularly.
- Attend regular dentist appointments.
- Eat a nutritious diet.
- Stay hydrated.
- Seek help for dependence problems (like alcohol, prescription, or recreational drugs).
- Exercise regularly (even if that simply means parking at the far end of the parking lot or taking the stairs instead of an elevator).
Take Care of Your Mental Health
As a society, we are starting to better understand the connection between mental health and physical health. There are a lot of physical problems caused or made worse by poor mental health, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and more. (Source) To protect your mental health as a caregiver, make sure you:
- Do activities for pleasure (like reading, walking, taking a bubble bath, talking to friends on the phone or in person, watching a movie, etc.)
- Consider talking to a professional. Becoming a caregiver creates a tough physical and mental load. A professional psychiatrist or therapist can help you untangle some of the more complicated bits.
- Join a caregiver support group.
- Take time off (both from caregiving through respite care, and other responsibilities, like work, from time to time).
- Set realistic and attainable goals.
The relationship between you and your loved one is experiencing an unprecedented shift. You’re going from child, spouse, sibling, grandchild, etc. to caregiver. This change in the nature of your relationship can create tension between the two of you.
It’s important to maintain open and honest communication as you go through this transition and build up the respect in this new reality. This may quickly become the most rewarding phase of your relationship, but that will only happen with consistent, respectful, and honest communication.
Find and Use Resources
As a caregiver, you may feel alone from time to time (or all the time). It’s easy to feel isolated when your time is consumed by care. Regardless of how it feels, it’s important to remember that there are millions of other caregivers out there dealing with similar struggles, fears, worries, stresses, and more.
Similarly, there are tons of free and local resources available to help you. Some examples include:
- California Caregiver Resource Centers – if you live in California, there is a CRC near you that’s ready to help connect you to relevant resources and information in your area. Click here to find your local CRC.
- Family Caregiver Alliance – if you live outside of California, Caregiver.org offers a similar service to help you find resources in your local area.
- Disease or ailment-specific non-profits – whether your loved one is going through dementia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, MS, diabetes, heart disease, or anything else, there is likely a non-profit out there with resources specifically designed to help you.
- Ask for training – when you’re in a hospital or doctor’s office setting, you can (and should) ask questions, request tutorials, and/or training for specific procedures you’ll have to handle yourself at home. Examples may include things like administering shots, changing adult diapers, physical therapy exercises, and more.
Protect Your Finances
If you are a caregiver for your loved one, we recommend you check out our article about getting paid to be a caregiver. Becoming a caregiver is difficult and expensive–out-of-pocket annual costs average in the thousands for a family caregiver. The state of California offers several paths to receiving at least partial compensation or subsidized assistance, so click here to learn more about how to get paid to be a caregiver.
For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to call us at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.