Caring for a loved one can be a very rewarding experience. You are able to give back to a loved one in their time of need, however the stressors involved can lead to damaging symptoms and caregiver stress or burnout. The demands of caregiving can feel overwhelming at times and if left unchecked they can take a toll on the caregiver’s health, relationships and mental wellbeing. Even the most resilient people can feel the strain of caring for a loved one in need.
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. Caregiver stress is the compounded emotional and physical strain that comes with providing care for a loved one. Caregiver stress can be particularly damaging, since it is typically a chronic, long-term challenge. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better.
Without adequate help and support, the stress of caregiving leaves you vulnerable to a wide range of physical and emotional problems such as:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling worried or sad often
- Having headaches or body aches often
The key point is that caregivers need care too. Managing the stress levels in your life is just as important as making sure your family member gets to his doctor’s appointment or takes her medication on time.
Symptoms of Caregiver Stress
You may be experiencing caregiver burnout if you find your energy levels are lower than they used to be. Perhaps you are constantly getting sick or feeling exhausted even after a break. Maybe you find your life is only revolving around caregiving and you are neglecting your own needs. Do you have trouble relaxing and you feel helpless or hopeless? Or maybe you feel very irritable or impatient with the person you are caring for. You may experience higher levels of anxiety or depression. Or you may have a weakened immune system or increased weight gain due to high levels of stress.
How to Overcome Caregiver Stress
Caregiver stress can be managed by seeking help from others so that you are not solely caring for the loved one and taking time away. It is important for you to stay on top of your own health so that you can provide the best quality care to your loved one and the rest of your family. Only provide the care that you are capable of doing and seek out assistance from other family members or agencies that may be able to provide more specialized interventions for your loved one. Don’t forget that you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Find support in your community through groups or a therapist.
Other Ways to Help Ease the Burden Include:
- Learning more skills and better ways to care for your loved one. Seek out local classes and community education groups to help understand what your loved one is going though and more effective ways to assist them.
- Ask others for help and accept unsolicited help. You cannot do it all alone. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Others may not be aware of the amounts of stress you are under. Assigning small tasks seems simple, but can really help.
- Join a caregiver support group. There are other people going through this too! You need non judgemental social support and these groups are great at providing this.
- Find caregiving resources in your community to help. Look into agencies. Contact the loved one’s doctor office and ask for referrals from the social worker there.
- Get organized. Make to-do lists, and set a daily routine.
- Take time for yourself. Stay in touch with family and friends, and do things you enjoy with your loved ones.
- Take care of your health. Find time to be physically active on most days of the week, choose healthy foods, and get enough sleep.
- See your doctor for regular checkups and be sure to alert them to your new role as a caregiver. You cannot help anyone if you are ill!
Some additional levels of home health care are available depending on the patient’s insurance coverage. Contact the insurance company directly to learn what their coverage is and be certain you have all the necessary information so that you are not hit with a large out of pocket expense. Another great resource for the elderly is the Area Agency on Aging. They have information on programs that your loved one may qualify for.
You are not alone in this and should not feel guilty or isolated in providing care for your loved one. If you need help finding resources in your area, contact the local Area Agency on Aging, your loved one’s doctor, or a local therapist or social worker to help you regain balance and enjoyment in life.
Let Us Help
If you need help and support, know we are here to do just that. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you navigate caregiver stress!