Caregivers face special challenges that could cause stress levels to rise. If you are a caregiver, know that you likely experience a higher level of stress than the person who relies on your care. And your level of stress may have effects on both your lives: Studies show that as your own level of tension and anxiety rise, so do the stress levels of your loved one, which can be detrimental to their well-being.
So while it can be hard to put yourself first, when it comes to stress, it’s a must.
Signs of caregiver burnout
Being a caregiver can be very demanding, especially if you’re caring for parents and children at the same time or trying to juggle a busy schedule around work hours. Feelings of anger, frustration and guilt are common — understandably so.
Too much stress, however, can bring on a slew of other emotional and physical effects, including:
- Depression, anxiety and hopelessness
- Trouble concentrating
- Insomnia, lack of energy or physical exhaustion
- Mood swings — like crying or getting angry for no real reason
- Lack of interest in social activities that you once enjoyed
- Denial of the effects of a disease on your loved one
- Health problems — frequent colds or flu, backaches, high blood pressure or weight loss/gain
Putting a stop to caregiver stress
So what can you do about it? Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help reduce the stressors in your life and help ease your body into a relaxed state.
Be realistic. Depending on your loved one’s condition, there may be only so much you can do to help them. Be realistic about how much difference your care will make. Chances are, it’s more than you think.
- Ask for help. Whether it's for actual physical help or emotional support, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Work with your family or close friends to share the responsibilities. You can also search for “caregiver” in Find Support for resources in your area.
- Accept change. The person you care for will go through changes, and so may your responsibilities. Learn about the illness and work with your loved one’s healthcare provider so that you can anticipate changes, be ready before they happen, and adjust your expectations.
- Keep a lighter side. While it may be difficult to do, try to look at the positive — and sometimes humorous — side of things. Having a good laugh is a good way to help relieve stress.
- Be open and honest. When a friend or family member asks how you’re doing, be honest with them. You may find that a sympathetic ear is a great stress reliever.
- Take care of yourself. Remember to eat right, get enough exercise and enjoy good quality sleep to keep yourself in good health. Doing these things will also help your body combat the effects of too much stress.
- Remember your priorities. You may have to learn how to say “no” to taking on more than you can handle or simplify your life so that you can free up your schedule and get some real down time for yourself.
- Make time for relaxation. When it comes to stress, even a few simple relaxation exercises can make a difference.