Managing Caregiver Stress

Did you know :

  • there are 53 million family caregivers in the US?
  • 61% of caregivers are women?
  • adults ages 45 to 64 are the most likely to be caregivers?

A caregiver is “a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.”

If you are a caregiver, you are probably familiar with caregiver stress. The Pew Research Center has found that while the majority of caregivers find their role rewarding, at least a third also indicate that caregiver stress is a struggle.

The Signs of Caregiver Stress

Caregiver stress can take many forms. The Mayo Clinic cites these key signs to look out for:

  • feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • feeling tired often
  • getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • gaining or losing weight
  • becoming easily irritated or angry
  • having frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
  • abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

Recent research from the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that beyond the time and emotional energy that caregiving requires, caregivers stress out because they:

  • struggle with balancing their own needs with those of their loved one
  • may lack the control over resources or the skills to deal with their loved one’s needs
  • experience a lack of privacy or “alone time”
  • have unreasonable expectations about the impact they can have
  • face the unreasonable expectations of other family members

A Look Ahead

From 2015 to 2020, there was a 9.5 million increase in the number of family caregivers in the United States. The aging of the population, combined with other social, cultural, and economic factors indicate that the role of caregiving is projected to increase even more.

Care for the Caregiver

Yes, we care for a loved one because it’s “the right thing to do.” But the vast majority of us provide this care because we find it deeply rewarding and know that it makes a positive difference in our loved one’s life. We also know that if the shoe were on the other foot, we’d hope that they would be there for us. Nonetheless, the stress can and does get to us. Here are several key steps you can take to manage that stress:

  • Don’t beat yourself up. You don’t have a magic wand to make everything perfect. Accept your limitations and focus on the difference you can and do make in your loved one’s life.
  • Be realistic.Try not to take on more than you can reasonably handle and remember that “No” can be the best response when someone asks you to take on yet another responsibility.
  • Enlist and accept help.Get clear about how others can help you. Make a list and then enlist help. Ask a sibling, a close friend, maybe even a neighbor to lend a hand. When someone says, “Let me know what I can do to help,” put aside your misplaced pride and give them one specific thing they can do.
  • Keep your personal network strong. At various times, my friends and I have taken on the role of caregiver for family members – even for an ex-spouse! Be sure to stay close to those who lift you up and provide you with a non-judgmental shoulder to lean on. Make a point of talking with them and seeing them in person as much as possible.
  • Stay informed. Remember that knowledge is power. Learn enough about what ails your loved one so that you can proceed to care for them in an informed way. Understanding also reinforces empathy, which can run thin when stress is high.
  • Reach out for resources. Don’t assume that you know what our local community can offer. Look into services such as transportation, housekeeping, and meal delivery. Ask other caregivers, as you may be surprised to learn that they have already done the legwork.
  • Take care of yourself. You’ve heard it countless times before because it is true: if your well is dry, everything suffers – including the care you are able to provide. Everyone is different, but taking care of the basics – diet, sleep, exercise, screening exams – always matters. Do it for you and for them!
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