As a caregiver, you’re giving a big part of yourself up to another person. Whether it’s a paid job or family caregiving for a spouse, parent, or child, there’s no denying that stress is a large part of your occupation. You might be mentally and physically strong. But that won’t protect you from exhaustion and burnout.
You truly care about the person you’re taking care of. So, the best way forward is to give yourself some attention as well. If caregiver stress isn’t acknowledged and dealt with, it can hurt your physical and mental well-being.
Caregiver stress is real, and it’s no joke. Step back, check your signs, and do something about that strain before it affects your ability to provide care.
Signs You’re a Victim of Caregiver Stress
The first step towards combating caregiver stress is being aware of it and pinpointing the signs. While the exact signals will probably be different for every individual, here are just some of the most common ones.
When you’re a caregiver, your focus will usually be on the care recipient and all the tasks you need to do. On a normal day, the list of errands and volume of work can be quite staggering. Mentally, you have to remember a whole slew of things, from eating routine to bathroom issues to keeping your voice steady and calm. Physically, it can be exhausting to lift a whole other person or even just assist them when they want to move around.
All of this can make it difficult to concentrate on just one task. You’re thinking about all the other things you need to do, whether at home or work. As a result, the simplest task might become difficult to complete.
Anger is a natural emotion but letting it get the best of you is rarely a good idea. When you’re constantly caring for someone who is ill or old, the emotional effects can be quite intense. The result could be that you start becoming more impatient and intolerant of the person you’re attending to. Yelling episodes, issues in controlling temper, and other related occurrences might become more common.
Some caregivers could become resentful of the care recipients. They might think that they’re putting their own lives and careers on hold for this monumental task. Other caregivers might feel underappreciated by those around them. The anger and resentment may also arise from the thought that other family members aren’t as supportive or helpful.
Having depressive thoughts, constantly feeling sad or hopeless are all symptoms of depression. If you’re a caregiver and experiencing such symptoms, it could be time to get help. Other depression-related signs include a high tendency to cry, feeling caregiver guilt more often, or even losing interest in your job.
Withdrawal is another symptom of depression that’s related to caregiver stress. This could mean that you’re withdrawing from those around you, whether it’s from the person you’re taking care of or your social circle. You might not want to visit or see your friends and family, even on your days off.
Another sign of withdrawal involves the way you used to lead life. For instance, you might have loved going to the movies, baking, or reading a good book. If it’s been ages since you’ve pursued any of your interests, caregiver stress might be the underlying reason.
A rise in anxiety could mean that you’re getting tense with each passing day. You might be anxious about completing your tasks, not having enough time to do everything, or that there aren’t enough resources to do the things you need and want to do. Financial worries, as well as low energy levels, also play an influential role here.
This anxiety is also manifested in feelings of apprehension about the future. You might wake up and find it hard to face the new day. Pay attention to these symptoms, especially if they’re constant over a long period.
Changes in your eating habits
One of the most obvious and common signs of stress is a change in one’s eating habits. Caregiver stress could result in a loss of appetite or, on the other extreme, overeating. Your emotions might be too much to cope with. So, you end up consuming more to feel better through the experience. On the other hand, unexplained weight loss might result from your forgetting to eat or just wanting some control over your body.
Drastic changes in weight and diet are never healthy. In these cases, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of contracting diabetes, heart diseases, eating disorders, and even certain types of cancers.
High-stress levels may also cause insomnia. That’s why caregivers may feel tired while finding it hard to sleep well. That could mean they have difficulties falling asleep in the first place or that they wake up too often during the night. Another sleeping-related symptom is the experience of stressful dreams that often turn into nightmares.
Whichever issue you’re facing, the result will be that you’re not getting enough sleep — at least not the healthy kind. Sleep is meant to be part of your body’s healing process and has a role in your mental health as well. If you’re not getting those precious hours of uninterrupted, restful sleep, you’re putting a lot of stress on both your body and mind.
Many caregivers might wake up feeling both mentally and physically exhausted. They may have trouble getting out of bed. High stress will do that to you. So, you need to be aware of what your body is trying to say.
Increase in drinking or smoking
People under a high level of stress find ways to cope whichever way they can. Unfortunately, not all these means are healthy for us. If a caregiver is a smoker or in the habit of consuming alcohol, they might smoke or drink more when they feel stressed out. You might find yourself finishing a whole pack of cigarettes in a day or reaching for the bottle the second you have a spare moment. Needless to say, such habits could become dangerous addictions and need to be nipped in the bud.
On the other hand, even caregivers who never use substances could turn down that road when they experience too much stress.
Increasing health issues
Stress has a physical effect as well as an emotional one. With high stress, caregivers are likely to have a weakened immune system. With this lacking, they’re more likely to catch a cold, get the flu, and several other illnesses. Besides chronic stress, factors such as poor sleep, poor eating habits, smoking, drinking, and recreational drugs will also wreak havoc on your overall health.
10 Strategies to Overcome Caregiver Stress
If the signals we’ve listed above seem familiar to you, the following strategies will hopefully come in handy.
1. Pay attention to your health
When you travel by air, you’re instructed to put on your oxygen mask before helping others in case of an emergency. Ever wondered why this is so? It just makes sense to help yourself so that you’re able to help others.
In the same way, you need to focus on eating well, getting enough rest, and exercising. Even if this just means the basics, it’s better than just pushing yourself on empty fumes. Don’t forget the medical checkup either.
You can also get rid of caregiver stress by using a bed positioning pad. That will help you avoid backache while lifting your patient.
2. Delegate tasks
If you’re caring for a family member, reach out to other relatives and ask for help. Many people are willing to lend a hand but aren’t sure how they can assist.
Getting help doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else takes on all your caregiver responsibilities for a few days or even hours. Instead of staying with the care recipient, relatives and friends can get your groceries, coordinate appointments, handle paperwork, and a whole lot more.
3. Get occasional relief
When your care recipient needs attention around the clock, you’re entitled to some breaks at certain intervals. This could be as little as a few minutes to chat with someone else or just going for a stroll in the park.
Whether you’re paid or unpaid, having these little respites can make all the difference.
4. Get a support system
The emotional burden of caregiving can be quite heavy. Therefore, you need to get some emotional support as well. Fortunately, your local hospital or your healthcare plan might have caregiver support groups to offer.
These in-person or online groups are a great way to vent and get in touch with people who can relate to your situation.
5. Set boundaries
There’s no need to say yes to every single request or obligation. These might come in the form of taking extra shifts, giving up something fun or sacrificing your free time when you don’t have to. Insist on your breaks and use them for your well-being. You deserve it!
When you start setting boundaries, you might feel that some people are offended or even angry at being refused. Stick to your guns, though. Others will soon learn to respect your freedom.
6. Know your limitations
There will always be things that are out of your control. Can you do something to change what’s bothering you? If so, try your best, but if not, let it go.
For example, if someone is rude to you, think about controlling your reaction rather than changing their behavior. The former is in your control, the latter is not. Similarly, health, age, and other problems with your loved ones aren’t in your control. Focus on how you can make them more independent, comfortable, and happy.
If you haven’t made a daily routine yet, do it now. Get into the habit of breaking down your large tasks so that they seem less overwhelming.
Organize your closets and set things in order. All this will help you run through your tasks more smoothly and without getting too anxious.
8. Communicate well
Stay in touch with friends and relatives. Nowadays, it’s not so hard to stay connected; you can drop a text or schedule a video call.
The people in your life can be part of your support system and care team. Ask for help and accept offers of help whenever the need arises. There’s no medal for doing it all yourself. So, let others pitch in and make your system stronger.
9. Stay active
Caregivers might be busy people, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily active. You might find yourself sitting for long periods, especially when someone needs constant observation.
It’s important to stay physically active for the sake of your physical and emotional health. Take a short walk whenever you can and eat a balanced diet. More activity will help you sleep better, which will improve your immune function, mood, and overall health.
10. Take some time off
If you’re taking care of someone at home and working outside of your home, apply for some days off. Don’t give up your job or career completely but set aside some time to get your routine in order. If you have to care for a family member, you’ll need that time to focus on what they need. That includes giving them emotional support and bonding with them before you have to go out to work again.
However, keep in mind that financial stability and gainful employment are good for your mental health. Keep your priorities in mind and only commit to the amount of caregiving that you can do. For the rest, there are always professionals you can hire.
Caregiver Stress: The Takeaway
High caregiver stress can and will arise for several reasons. However, it is the lack of self-care, awareness, and resources that mainly leads to this situation. Focusing on someone else’s needs all the time is an admirable thing, but it’s also important to prioritize yourself.
Getting enough sleep, socializing, and eating well is a basic right that also enhances your ability to look after others. Now that you’re aware of the red flags watch out for them and take care of yourself.