Taking care of someone with a chronic condition is rewarding, but it can be overwhelming at times — both physically and mentally. Caregivers are also often dealing with the pressures of their own lives, whether they’re raising a family or pursuing a career. Naturally, this can lead to stress.
Signs of caregiver stress may 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. Long-term stress can raise the risk for stroke, heart attacks, skin and hair issues, obesity and other eating disorders.
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 even make vaccines like flu shots less effective.
While stress may be unavoidable for caregivers, learning how to effectively manage it is crucial.
- Take breaks. Schedule time for yourself, whether you spend it with a friend or relax on your own. 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. Find a respite care provider near you.
- Get organized. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can complete one at a time to help make tasks more manageable. 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 that others can help you, and let them choose what they would like to do. For example, someone may offer to run an errand for you, or 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 MealsÒ, 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 with lots of variety.
- Prioritize personal health. Find time to be physically active during the week. Exercise gets those feel-good endorphins flowing, relieves stress and helps re-focus the mind. 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 maintain healthy sleep patterns.
- 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 to take good care of others.
- Join a support group. Both online and in-person support groups 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 the person you care for.
- Get connected. Explore caregiving resources in your community. Many communities offer classes specifically about the condition your loved one is battling. Services such as transportation, meal delivery, companionship and housekeeping may also be available.
- Plan ahead. If caring for a loved one, that person’s health status may change. 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.