Taking care of someone with a chronic condition can feel overwhelming at times—both physically and mentally. In fact, caregivers are also often dealing with the pressures of their own lives, whether they’re raising a family or working at a career. This can naturally lead to stress. Signs of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling tired and exhausted
- Getting too much or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
- Feeling sad
- Feeling guilty
- Experiencing frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
While certain levels of stress may help you cope and respond to change or challenge, long-term stress of any kind, including caregiver stress, can lead to serious health problems. For example, it can cause anxiety and depression. High levels of stress, especially when combined with depression, can raise the risk for stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis. Stressed caregivers may also have weaker immune systems than non-caregivers and spend more days sick with a cold or flu. A weak immune system can make vaccines like flu shots less effective. Additionally, it may take longer to recover from surgery.
While stress may be unavoidable for caregivers, learning how to effectively manage it is crucial.
Here are some tips to help alleviate caregiver stress:
- Take breaks. Schedule time for yourself, whether you spend it with a friend or relax by yourself. Taking regular days off from your routine will help you re-energize. Home health agencies may offer “respite care” or adult day care programs that can give you a break. This is a list item
- Get organized. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can complete one at a time. Prioritize what needs to be done and establish a daily routine. Don’t be afraid to say no when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Understand your limits, and accept help. Develop a list of ways others can help you and choose what they would like to do. For example, a friend may offer to sit with the person you care for so you can take an evening stroll. Also, consider using a home-delivered meals service like Mom’s Meals, which saves you time by not having to prepare meals for yourself and/or your loved one. Mom’s Meals offers general wellness and health-specific menus and lots of variety!
- Take care of your health. Find time to be physically active during the week. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes on most days—break it into three 10-minute sessions if that’s easier. Also, be sure to eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep.
- Visit your doctor for regular checkups. Get recommended screenings and vaccinations, and let your doctor know you're a caregiver. Don't hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have. Remember, you need to be healthy in order to take good care of your loved one.
- Join a support group. A support group can provide encouragement and problem-solving strategies for various situations. Joining a support group is a wonderful way to develop meaningful relationships with others who care for someone with the same illness or disability as your loved one.
- Get connected. Explore caregiving resources in your community. Many communities offer classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Services such as transportation, meal delivery, companionship, and housekeeping may also be available.
- Plan ahead. Accept that your loved one's status may change, and reach out to professionals who can help you prepare for legal, financial, or long-term health issues before you need them. If necessary, seek guidance for end-of-life issues.
Finally, know that you’re never alone. There are resources out there that you should not hesitate to draw on. The, Eldercare Locator a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can help you find caregiving services in your area. You also can contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
 Godbout, J. P., & Glaser, R. (2006). Stress-induced immune dysregulation: Implications for wound healing, infectious disease, and cancer. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 1(4), 421–427.