Recognizing & Reducing Caregiver Stress
As our baby boomers head into their golden ages, a sharp increase in care taking has happened. More and more caregiving is now being provided by people who are untrained health care professionals. They are spouses, sons, daughters, siblings, or friends.
Just so we are all on the same page, a caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. For most caregivers, being there when a loved one needs you is a core value and something you wish to provide. Unfortunately, family members who are actively caring for an older adult often don’t self-identify as a “caregiver.” Recognizing that this is a role you or someone you care about is critical in making sure that those caregivers caring for their loved ones are able to receive the support they need.
It is inevitable that in the process of caregiving, a shift in emotions is going to occur. Caregiving is emotionally taxing, physically demanding, and mentally exhausting. For caregivers that are friends and family, there are a multitude of factors at work that raise the stress level of caregiving. It is difficult to work with a loved one who is no longer the person you knew them to be for so long. Often, family and friend caregivers expect them to “snap out of it” or think perhaps this is “just a phase” and that they will return to the person they knew. This dichotomy between who the person was and who they are adds an element of stress that most overlook. Coming to terms with the new normal is one more layer that is added to the work of caregiving. It requires time and space and more often than not is forgotten in the daily activities of caregiving. There is also the work of grief that comes as the reality of losing someone becomes clearer and clearer.
Here are eight signals you are experiencing stress as a caregiver:
- Depression. Symptoms include constant sadness, feelings of hopelessness, and increased crying.
- Withdrawal. Typically accompanies depression: no desire to see family or friends and you stop doing things that you used to enjoy.
- Anxiety. You get overwhelmed by things you need to get done, facing another day or what could happen in the future.
- Anger. You yell at loved ones more, particularly the one you are caring for because of all you are sacrificing in your own life, and feel bitter towards other family members not helping more.
- Loss of concentration. Most of your mental energy surrounds your loved one and all you need to do for them. As a result, you have a hard time focusing on items to be done at home.
- Changes in eating habits. This results in weight gain or loss.
- Insomnia. You feel tired, but cannot sleep. Perhaps you do not feel tired even if your body is tired. You may also have an increase of waking often throughout the night or have nightmares and stressful dreams.
- Exhaustion. No matter how much sleep or how many naps, you never feel rested.
Over time, these stress induced symptoms will have an adverse effect on your health. Too much stress, especially sustained over a long period of time, can be seriously damaging to your physical, mental and emotional abilities.
Here are few things to help mitigate caregiver stress.
- Go for a walk. Taking care of yourself first is important in order for you to be there for the one you love. Being physically active in a restorative way will boost your mood and energy.
- Take a break. Whether you use a loved one or hire a company for respite care, stepping back from the situation is crucial in maintaining your personal health.
- Speak up. Let other family members know about financial needs or areas where they can step up at home. Sharing the burden will help alleviate stress.
- Stay social. It is work to be a caregiver and have a life. Work hard to maintain connections with friends and communities that will support you emotionally during this process.
- Filter, filter, filter. The life of caring for a loved one is similar to the life of a brand new mom. You cannot do everything! Make a list of values and priorities and make decisions based off of that list. This will help you say no to the things that you don’t really want taking up your time.
What you are doing is valuable and commendable, don’t ever forget that!
Good job and good luck!