Dealing With Caregiver Stress
The world’s population is rapidly growing older. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the population over 60 years will double globally between 2015 and 2050, reaching 2 billion.
However, aging is often accompanied by a decline in physical and mental health, requiring caregiving services provided by people (usually family members) who are not health care professionals.
Also, many young people and children with disabilities need a caregiver to help handle their needs and activities of daily living (ADLs). A caregiver can be a spouse, a child, a parent, or a relative.
It feels good to look after a loved one, as spending time together can deepen your bond and give a new perspective to your relationship.
Although caregiving to a loved one can have rewards, it can at the same time be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. Caregiver stress is common in people who take care of another human being. It is natural to feel frustrated, exhausted, angry, or sad if you provide caregiving to another person.
Sometimes, people lack the choice of being a caregiver, which only adds to caregiver stress. Some other risk factors that may contribute to caregiver stress and burnout involve social isolation, lack of coping skills, anxiety, depression, and financial struggles.
What are Three Signs of Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress manifests itself through various emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms. However, the three most common signs of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Feeling overwhelmed with worry and sadness
- Becoming easily irritated
Other signals that you may be suffering from caregiver stress involve: sleep problems (either getting too much or not enough sleep), appetite changes and weight issues, losing interest in activities you used to take pleasure in, feeling guilty, abusing alcohol or drugs, and having frequent aches and pains.
What is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Caregiver stress syndrome is a state of complete emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that usually results from a caregiver focusing so much on a person’s needs in their care that they neglect their own needs and wellbeing.
A role of a caregiver involves various duties and responsibilities, from health care and assistance with personal care to emotional support and home organization, which can be overwhelming.
In addition, caring for a loved one with dementia can be emotionally, physically, and mentally challenging as dementia patients experience a progressive brain disorder that obstructs cognitive abilities and causes personality changes and behavior problems.
Stress from everyday caregiving duties can become overwhelming, causing caregiver burnout – a condition of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion.
What are the Signs of a Caregiver Burnout?
Identifying and addressing caregiver burnout is essential as this condition can seriously harm your health, mood, and overall wellbeing. The most common signs of caregiver burnout involve:
- Irritability and anger
- Feeling guilty if you put your needs first
- Sleep problems
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Weakened immune system
- Pains and aches and other physical concerns
- Alcohol or substance abuse
To relieve caregiver burnout, learn about the condition of a person you care for. This will help you better respond to their needs, prioritize responsibilities, and reduce stress.
However, you need to set boundaries and learn to take care of your needs too. Self-care strategies such as physical activity, mindfulness exercise, and professional mental health support can help you relax, boost your mood, improve resilience, and help you deal with caregiver stress.
It is also essential that you don’t neglect your social life. Many caregivers feel so overwhelmed, isolating themselves from family and friends. However, friends and family can be a significant circle of support, providing encouragement and understanding and helping you manage caregiver stress.
If you feel constantly exhausted, irritable, worried, discouraged, and unable to rest, you may be experiencing caregiver fatigue. Talk about your concerns with your health provider to prevent long-term damage caregiver stress can cause to your wellbeing.
Does Caregiving Cause Psychological Stress?
Psychological stress from caregiving is common, causing mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, alcohol, substance abuse, or eating disorders.
Psychological stress occurs due to the emotional, mental, and physical demands of caregiving. Studies show that caregivers report much higher levels of stress compared to people who are not caregivers.
Many caregivers provide caregiving around the clock, neglecting their own needs and lacking time to relax and socialize. This contributes to feelings of exhaustion, isolation, anxiety, and depression.
According to some estimates, around 43 million caregivers in the US provide unpaid assistance to an adult family member. One-third of them are also raising children, while 40 percent of caregivers work full time. Also, 30 percent of caregivers don’t have family members to step in and help them out. Most than half of them report feeling overwhelmed by the amount of care caregiving requires.
Although most people consider caregiving a significant life stressor, a 2014 study showed that the link between caregiving and different forms of psychological distress depends on a person’s genetic factor and upbringing more than on the difficulties of caregiving.
For instance, if a caregiver has a history of anxiety or depression, they are more likely to experience psychological stress due to caregiving.
Long-term caregiver stress (and any other type of stress) can cause serious mental health problems. The most common psychological health problems triggered by caregiving are anxiety and depression.
Research shows that women who are caregivers to a family member are more likely than men to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. These mental health concerns are also linked with a weakened immune system, various physical symptoms, problems with sleep and appetite, trouble focusing and paying attention, relationship issues, and other concerns.
High levels of stress increase the risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.
Why is Caregiving so Hard?
Caregiving is so hard due to its physical and emotional demands. Caring for another person involves time, commitment, flexibility, and sacrifice. However, being a caregiver is also tricky because you often witness a decline and changes in your loved one.
Caregivers usually take care of loved ones with disabilities, mental illness, injuries, chronic physical conditions, aging parents, or terminally ill people.
If you care for an aging parent with dementia, you may witness various changes in their behavior, personality, reasoning, and mood. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect the person’s cognitive abilities, judgment, problem-solving, and emotional control. Dementia patients often experience angry outbursts and meltdowns, appearing depressed, irritated, or agitated.
As dementia progresses, your parent may begin struggling with memory loss, personality changes, communication and language skills, and visual perception.
Also, it is common for people with dementia to experience mood swings and feel overwhelmed, confused, or lonely, which sometimes causes anger and aggression.
What Do Caregivers Need Most?
If you are a caregiver to a family member, what you need most is help from other family members. Ask a family member to take over from time to time so you can take a break from caregiving duties and recharge. You need time to yourself – to relax, clear your thoughts, and engage in hobbies, sports, or other activities you enjoy.
Also, as a caregiver, you may need emotional support. You may benefit from talking with someone who understands and supports your efforts.
When is Too Much Caregiving?
Many caregivers spend the day in and out taking care of their loved ones, not realizing the signs of stress overload that may signal you had too much caregiving. Consider making self-care a priority if you experience:
- Feeling drained most of the time
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Overwhelming sadness
- Irritability, moodiness, or anger
- Loneliness and isolation
- Problems concentrating
- Aches and pains
- Sleep problems
- Appetite changes (overeating or eating too little)
If most of the caregiver stress symptoms from the list apply to you, consider asking help from your health care provider.
Do Caregivers Get Angry?
Yes, they do. Irritability, moodiness, and anger are common symptoms of caregiver stress and burnout.
While anger is a normal human emotion, frequently feeling upset and angry can impact your quality of life, mental health, and relationships with others.
Those who are dealing with caregiver stress and burnout may struggle with anger management. To cope with caregiver anger, identify the source of your anger. Journaling can help you down track down your emotions and situations that trigger them so that you can identify the patterns.
Try practicing relaxation exercises and mindfulness meditation, as these can be helpful strategies for managing anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.
What Should You Not Tell a Caregiver?
If your loved one or a friend is a caregiver, you may want to offer compassion and support. However, some phrases can pressure and aggravate caregiver stress, so you should not tell them to a caregiver. So, when offering comfort and empathy to a caregiver, avoid saying things such as:
- You look tired/exhausted/bad.
- You should not be sacrificing that much to your (mother, father, spouse, uncle, etc.)
- Caregiving seems like such a burden. You don’t have life.
- You should go out more.
- I don’t know how you do it!
- You should hire a skilled person to do this job.
When Should You Stop Being a Caregiver?
There are many reasons why people decide to stop being family caregivers. Some caregivers are told by physicians that their family member’s terminal illness has deteriorated so much that they now require 24/7 care of a nursing facility. Others must turn to other family members who need their support (young children, a spouse in poor health, etc.) or must opt-out of being a caregiver due to caregiver stress that harms their physical and emotional wellbeing.