Caregiver Stress: What Is It And How To Handle It

Being thrust into the role of caregiver can turn your life on its axis. Routines are changed, family life is altered and the work life balance is skewed. Caring for a loved one is a responsibility that is challenging and comes with a heavy weight attached. There are a multitude of issues to consider, such as financial implications, deteriorating health and the wider picture of the family. All of this stress and pressure can add up and really take a toll on you as an individual. Many are not prepared for this aspect of caregiving and it can be truly detrimental to their own health.

In today’s article, we will be looking at what caregiver stress entails and ways that we can combat this.

So what happens when you take on the role of caregiver?

If you’re caring for an elderly loved one, there will be a high number of daily tasks that you will assist with. These include but are not limited to things such as driving the person to their doctor/hospital appointments, making dinner and looking after the medication aspect, by ensuring that the appropriate pills are taken. When all of these duties mount up, your sense of self-worth is often the first thing to go. Janice Taylor (source, AgingCare.com) who is an author and care giver shared that “Society tells you what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to feel,” she continues by saying, “We’re bad people if we don’t drive ourselves mad and go deeply into caregiving.”

The reality here is that the feeling of responsibility overwhelms everything else in your life and your own problems and issues take a back seat to care giving.

To deal with this, there are ways to remove the “caregiver” title from your person and give you a sense of personality back. Here are some methods on how to do that;

Think About Yourself

It can be difficult to do this, but to re-connect with yourself, define the things that you like enjoying. This can be in the form of hobbies, exercise or reading, anything that will define you as you, not your relationships with others.

Now is the time to explore self-pep talks. Take a moment to have some alone time during the day and reaffirm who you are. It’s helpful to do this whilst looking into a mirror and you may say things like “I am wise, funny, intelligent and fun.” What this does is again distance yourself from the caregiver role and re-establish connection with who you are.

Talk to Strangers

Speaking to someone who has no idea who you are is a perfect way to shed the caregiver robe. Try joining a club that has something you’re passionate about, or a gym so you can connect with like-minded individuals if you are into fitness. Introducing yourself to new people and then conversing without pre-conceived notions lingering offers a refreshing change of pace from your daily life.

Create Goals

As soon as you begin to look after an elderly loved one, your own ambitions and prospects in life tend to get put on hold or even shelved indefinitely. To combat this, drawing up a list of goals and objectives in your life can spark a renewed passion in yourself.

Common symptoms of caregiver stress are varied and numerous, here are some examples;

10 Common Symptoms of Caregiver Stress

  1. Depression
  2. Withdrawal
  3. Insomnia
  4. Trouble concentrating
  5. Anger
  6. Health issues
  7. Exhaustion
  8. Anxiety
  9. Drinking or smoking
  10. Altered eating habits

(Source – AgingCare.com)

To combat the above issues that can crop up, here are some strategies that can put a stop to the stress symptoms experienced.

Regular Exercise

Mental health can be directly affected by physical wellbeing. Not only will feeling stronger and fitter make you feel better, completing the activities will release a surge of endorphins, which increase happiness in your mood.

Eat Right and Well

In conjunction with regular exercise, maintaining a well-balanced and nutritious diet goes a long way to keeping your mood and morale up. The old cliché of “you are what you eat” rings supremely true here. It’s tempting to reach for a candy bar or packet of chips when you’re in a rush, but take time to prepare some meals the day before that contain all the macronutrients such as protein, fats and carbohydrates, and you will be eating far better and healthier.

Take Some Time for You

Each day, it’s important to take a moment for yourself. A quiet room or solo walk around the block can do wonders to help clear your mind. Try listening to some meditation music as you sit quietly and unwind.

Don’t Feel Guilty

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of feeling guilty when caring for a loved one and you take some time for yourself, but resist this and remind yourself that you can only be at your best and give the best care when you are feeling right.

Get Outside Support

Open up your support network of friends and family and use them for emotional support when you need to. As well as this, it can be a real benefit to spend time with people close to you, who have an idea of what you’re going through. This doesn’t have to stop at your circle of friends either, there are many forums and websites to visit that can also provide a support network for you to lean on.

Accept Assistance from Others

If someone offers assistance, don’t be shy about saying “yes”. Accepting help has two benefits. Firstly, the burden will be lifted slightly from your shoulders and secondly, when you accept help from someone else, they’ll feel good about offering a hand. To really make it a smooth process, have a “to-do list” that has small, but important objectives that can be carried out by someone else. This can be collecting groceries, giving help with some DIY or anything of this nature.

Know When to Ask for Help

Linked in with the above is having the wherewithal to be honest with yourself and ask for assistance. This can be from service members, others in the family or counseling services. There are plentiful options out there.

Stay Connected with Others

One of the main problems with caregiving is that you can end up isolated. This is an easy option when you have an elder to look after, but as we’ve seen above, it can lead to numerous negative side effects. Therefore, don’t cut out your friends and family; use the tactics above to take time for yourself.

Celebrate Yourself

Finally, take a moment to give yourself some serious kudos for what you’re doing. Taking on the responsibility as a caregiver is a phenomenal achievement and in times where you feel underappreciated, take a step back and remind yourself what an amazing thing you’re doing.

As you can see, the main points circle around making time for you and having “me” time. It’s not that easy though and finding the time to relax and unwind is often the biggest challenge.

The following excerpt from AgingCare.com details this process;

“Cindy Laverty, caregiver coach, radio talk show host, and author of “Caregiving: Eldercare Made Clear and Simple,” experienced this dilemma first-hand when she became the primary caregiver for her ex-husband’s father and mother. Laverty says that she became so consumed with the need to remain in control and take care of everything in her in-laws’ lives, that she neglected to take care of herself in the beginning stages of her caregiving journey. This led to a brush with extreme caregiver burnout, as well as a resolve to re-think her approach to caregiving. According to Laverty, there are certain thoughts that can inhibit a family caregiver’s ability to calm down. These thoughts form the foundation of an internal monologue that convinces many caregivers that they are the only ones who can provide adequate care for their loved one. However, as Laverty points out, this is not the reality. ‘While an outside caregiver is not going to do caregiving the way the primary caregiver does, that’s okay, as long as the person is cared for,’ she says.”

So what else can be done to accomplish this? Here are some further ideas that can help you.

Your own Health

We’ve spoken previously about regular exercise and eating healthy food, but one subject not touched upon was sleep. Sleep deprivation is a sure fire way to increase stress and have you not feeling at your optimum levels. This in turn means you can’t deliver the best care possible and can induce further stress. So get an adequate amount of sleep every night to be at your best. Also under this umbrella is taking care of yourself by visiting the doctor when you need to. If you’re run down and not feeling too great, getting to the doctor for a check-up can make a difference in the long run.

Break Away Occasionally

We’ve touched upon this briefly, but if you’re caring for someone that requires constant attention, there will become a point where you need to take time out for yourself. To expand, mini-respites are found to significantly reduce stress levels. Federal legislators have also acknowledged that unpaid caregivers need occasional vacations. In 2006, the Lifespan Respite Care Act was passed to provide relief services for family caregivers. You can find information on respite services available near you by going to the website of the ARCH National Respite Network, www.archrespite.org. – Source Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Women’s Health Watch; Boston (Nov 2016).

Create a Support System for Yourself

A prolonged period of time giving care can really take an emotional toll on you. Receiving support in this aspect is vital and you’ll likely need it. As we’ve suggested, friends and family can offer a good starting point for this, but there are formal processes in place offered by a wide range of organizations. These include hospitals, religious groups and health care plans. Support groups within these structures offer a place to share and exchange thoughts and feelings with people who are going through the same or similar situation as you. This is a useful tool to exploit and provides another outreach for you. Therapy is another route to explore, especially when feelings begin to bubble to the surface. Guilt, regret and even resentment are not uncommon emotions to feel and it’s important to be able to constructively find a way to get these feelings out. A therapist will allow you to develop coping mechanisms that will assist you when things start to get overwhelming.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, stress in the care giver role is somewhat unavoidable. The burden of looking after someone else, particularly if they are a close elderly loved one is challenging and uncompromising. However, there are plenty of methods and ways in which to cope. It’s important to remember that looking after yourself should not be forgotten about, as otherwise the care you give will not be the best it can be. Therefore, this would make the process redundant and cause even further stress. Take time to reconnect with yourself, be active and healthy and remember that support exists in many different facilities, be it friends or family or in a professional setting.

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