Ten Ways to Identify and Alleviate Caregiver Stress
Assuming the role as a caregiver is a selfless act requiring a level of commitment and patience that can be quite overwhelming. In fact, while caring for a loved one can be rewarding, more often than not, caregivers feel anxious by the amount of care their aging, sick or disabled family member needs.
“Family caregiving cannot be equated to professional caregivers, such as nurses who are taught to remove themselves emotionally after a day’s work,” said Tina Dwyer, RN, Director of Care Coordination for South Shore Health's Home Care division. “Family caregivers often juggle competing demands with the demands of their own life, which can be quite a challenge."
There are an estimated 65 million Americans caring for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member or friend during any given year—the majority, baby-boomers who are not only managing the lives of aging family members, but also raising children, working full-time jobs, and handling the day-to-day responsibilities in their own lives.
There is a tendency for caregivers to feel guilty when they are not focusing all their attention on the needs of their loved one. Over time, some caregivers may begin to disregard their own health.
The good news is that through learning the specific signs of caregiver stress, we can effectively build awareness for ourselves and others so that the likelihood of stress-related health implications can be avoided.
10 Common Signs of Caregiver Stress
While the caregiver is usually the last to recognize changes in themselves, family and friends will see certain emotional and/or physical changes. Some signs include:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling constantly worried
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Significant weight change
- Feeling irritable, hopeless or helpless
- Frequent headaches or body aches
- Lack of interest in things you enjoy
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Withdrawing from friends and family
When caregivers neglect their own well-being, the risk and severity of signs and physical symptoms are even further enhanced. When not addressed, these symptoms can lead to serious health problems.
10 Ways to Alleviate Caregiver Stress
Below are ten tips to alleviate caregiver stress:
- Educate yourself. The more you know about your loved one’s disease or disability, the better care you can provide. Understanding your loved one’s condition can keep you from excessively worrying unnecessarily.
- Be realistic. It’s important to know your limits when it comes to the amount of care and type of care you can provide. No one can or should be expected to do it all on their own. Set realistic goals to accomplish, and never be afraid to accept help from family and friends.
- Accept. It’s okay to have negative feelings of frustration, guilt or even bitterness. These emotions are normal, and you should never feel guilty for accepting your feelings. Reassure yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
- Connect. It’s important to not only socialize with people other than your loved one, but to also to have someone with whom you can vent, seek advice and receive reassurance. Find support from a trusted friend or family member.
- Acknowledge. Be realistic about your loved one’s condition. If they have a chronic illness or progressive disease, recognize that you cannot cure your loved one, and that there’s only so much you can do for them.
- Stay healthy. Do your best to take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, find time to exercise and develop a healthy sleep pattern.
- Develop coping skills. Learn healthy ways to cope with the daily demands of caregiving. Keep a good sense of humor and a positive attitude.
- Make time for you. Allow yourself time to do the things you love. Meet with friends or pursue a hobby. Don’t lose your identity beneath your caregiving role.
- Daily routine. Laying out a daily routine that you try to stick to will help give you a greater sense of control. Prioritize your to-do list, whether it’s grocery shopping or a doctor’s appointment.
- Join a support group. Many local organizations offer support groups where caregivers can meet to share ideas and be with people who understand what they’re going through.
The odds are if you’re caring for a loved one for any length of time without much assistance—you have caregiver stress. Though your life has perhaps changed in a profound way—making it natural to feel frustrated or to even grieve for what you have lost—untreated anxiety or depression is serious, and it is important to remember the tried and true expression: Putting yourself first doesn't mean you don't care about others. It means you're smart enough to know you can't help others if you don't help yourself first.
First, check in with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that can trigger symptoms of mental health problems. Let your doctor know that you are a caregiver and might need support to be able to continue in this role. Finally, know that there is help available. The multi-faceted role that family caregivers play means a range of support services is necessary to remain healthy. Support services include information, assistance, counseling, respite, home modifications or assistive devices, caregiver and family counseling, and support groups.