Updated May 20, 2021
Informal caregivers (as we are called) provide 80% of the long-term care in the U.S. As the population ages, more caregiving is being provided by people who aren’t health care professionals like you and me. In this article I will discuss the signs of stress on family caregivers and show you how to deal with caregiver stress.
First, realize that you are a caregiver
The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060. And, the 85+ age group is the fasting growing segment of our population. As our population ages, more of us are finding ourselves in the role of caregiver.
A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. However, many family members who are actively caring for an older adult often don’t self-identify as a “caregiver.” Recognizing that you are actually a caregiver can be a huge factor in helping you receive the support you need.
Caregiving is rewarding but stressful
Caregiving can have many rewards, as I’m sure you know. It certainly did for me when I was caring for my Mom. The experience is something I would not trade for anything.
But, this shift in roles can be difficult and emotional. It’s natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone, or sad. Caregiver stress — the emotional and physical stress of caregiving — is common.
Whenever I found myself feeling angry or frustrated I would remember that I wasn’t angry at my mother, I was angry at the situation she was in. That would focus me back to the compassion and love I had for her.
Risk factors for caregiver stress
- Being female
- Having fewer years of formal education
- Living with the person you are caring for
- Social isolation
- Financial problems
- Long hours spent caregiving
- Lack of coping skills and difficulty solving problems
- Lack of choice in being a caregiver
Signs of caregiver stress
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on caring for your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health is being affected. Be aware of these signs of caregiver stress:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worrying
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming quick to anger or easily frustrated
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy doing
- Frequent headaches, body pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Too much stress, especially prolonged stress, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or exercise, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
How to deal with caregiver stress
Tips to help manage caregiver stress:
Make a list of things that other people could do that would help you and be prepared to accept the help that they offer. People want to help but oftentimes don’t know how.
If they offer, be prepared. For example, someone might be willing to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Someone else might offer to pick up groceries or cook for you.
Focus on what you are able to do
It is perfectly normal to feel guilty sometimes. I know I did. Just understand that no one is perfect. You are doing the best you can and making the best decisions with the information and tools you have at any given time.
You are doing the best you can!
Set realistic goals
Break large tasks into smaller ones. Prioritize, make lists and get in to a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
Find out about caregiving resources in your community or online. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one has and can provide resources. Caregiving services such as transportation and meal delivery may be available.
Join a support group
A support group can provide validation, encouragement, and problem-solving strategies. People in support groups are dealing with similar issues that you are and understand. They can also be a great place to create meaningful friendships.
Seek out social support
Make an effort to stay connected with family and friends who can offer emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
Set personal health goals
First of all, fuel your body with healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Establish a routine for some sort of physical activity. Even if it’s high-stepping in place while you’re watching the morning news.
I used to go for a walk (or run) first thing in the morning before my mom got up. It will help you feel so much better about yourself. And, the physical activity does wonders for managing stress…and helping you sleep…etc.
See your doctor
Get recommended immunizations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, but taking a break can be one of the best things you do for yourself. And, for the person you are caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as:
- In-home respite. Health care aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services or both.
- Adult care centers and programs. Some centers provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
- Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.
If you work outside the home
Nearly 60 percent of caregivers work outside of the home. If you work outside the home and are feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a break from your job.
Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.
Remember, you aren’t alone
If you’re like many caregivers, you have a hard time asking for help. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to feeling isolated, frustrated and even depressed.
Rather than struggling on your own, take advantage of local resources for caregivers. To get started, contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about services in your community. You can find your local AAA online or in the government section of your telephone directory.
Please leave a note in the comment section below if you have any questions or if you need additional support!