Are you feeling burned out or overwhelmed by caring for a loved one? If so, it’s not all in your head. Caring for others affects the health and well-being of the people providing those services. And there is a term for it: caregiver stress.
By 2030, the population of people ages 65 and older is expected to more than double to 71 million people, according to a study published in Nursing Forum in 2016. This means the number of people who will require a caregiver at some point in their life is expected to rise, too. One commonly overlooked problem is that caregivers face significant, life-impacting stress. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology found that caregiver stress is common among those providing substantial care for
elderly family members in their 80s and 90s.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
It can be easy to neglect yourself when you get wrapped up with your caregiving duties. So how can you tell if you or a loved one are facing caregiver stress? Here are some key signs, as noted by the Mayo Clinic:
- You may feel tired all the time. Caregiving demands physical and mental energy. If you are caring for a loved one, it can also tax your emotions. All these factors can leave you feeling exhausted.
- You don’t feel great. When you’re stressed, you may experience random aches and pains you didn’t notice before, or you may develop new health problems. This is not uncommon: Caregiver stress can increase pain, discomfort and other unpleasant conditions in the body.
- Your sleep may suffer. You may have trouble falling or staying asleep. That’s understandable: You have a lot on your plate!
- You may no longer enjoy some of your favorite activities. In fact, you may not have the energy or motivation to engage in them at all.
- You might find yourself unintentionally gaining or losing weight. Sometimes, when you are stressed, you can lose the desire to eat or you may overeat. Also, enduring chronic stress can increase cortisol, the stress hormone. This can lead to weight gain, even if you maintain your regular eating habits.
- You might be prone to drink or abuse prescription or recreational drugs. Mood-altering substances may seem like they’re helping you unwind or cope with strong emotions. But when you feel like you have to pop a pill or take a drink to make it through the day, that can be a sign of a deeper issue.
Risk Factors for Caregiver Stress
Some people are more likely to experience caregiver stress. Certain factors increase a person’s risk for caregiver stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:
- Being female
- Suffering from depression prior to becoming a caregiver
- Spending a significant amount of time caring for an individual
- Being socially isolated
- Facing financial challenges
- Living with the person for whom you are caring
- Lacking other options for a caregiver
How to Manage Caregiver Stress
While caregiver stress can be a serious problem, there are things you can do to take better care of yourself and manage your symptoms:
- Take things one step at a time. Make a list of your tasks and organize them based on level of importance.
- Allow yourself to accept help. Whenever possible, delegate some of the tasks on your list to others who are willing and able to help.
- Expand your network. Connect with people who are also caregivers or have experience caring for others. Support groups can be great sources of information
- Be realistic. After you review your list of action items, sift out the tasks that are reasonable to complete. Devise a strategy and seek help for those that are not realistic.
- Carve out a little “me” time. Exercise, meditation, yoga and engaging in hobbies are helpful for stress management and can help you feel less overwhelmed.
Caregiver stress can be challenging, but with an action plan and some outside help, you can manage it. Remember: You can’t take care of your loved ones if you don’t take care of yourself first.