According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP reports on caregiving in the US, the number of family caregivers has increased from 43.5 million to 53 million over the past 5 years. About 1 in 3 adults in the United States provide care to other adults as informal caregivers.
Caring for a loved one strains, even the most resilient people. The global pandemic increased all our stress levels this year. Family caregivers are no exception, and, in addition to the stress we all feel, the stress and responsibilities that fall on their shoulders are much greater. If you’re a caregiver, be sure to take steps to preserve your own health and well-being.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- A feeling of being overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor judgment
- Upset stomach
- Having frequent headaches, body aches, and pains, or other physical problems
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty sleeping
- Consistently feeling fatigued
- Lack of eating or overeating
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Strategies for Dealing with Stress
Caregivers should take advantage of the resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.
Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what they would like to do. For instance, a friend may offer to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Or a friend or family member may be able to run an errand, pick up your groceries or cook for you.
Focus on what you can provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists, and establish a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation, meal delivery, or housekeeping may be available.
Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
Set personal health goals. For example, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of water. Many caregivers have issues with sleeping. Not getting quality sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor.
See your doctor. Get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you may have.
Resources and Support for Caregivers
These resources can help you find assistance and emotional support.
- Broome County Caregiver Services – https://www.gobroomecounty.com/senior/caregiver
- Luzerne County Caregiver Support Program – https://www.luzernecounty.org/349/Caregiver-Support-Program
- Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging –https://www.lackawannacounty.org/index.php/departmentsagencies/human-services/area-agency-on-aging
- National Family Caregiver Support Program – https://aging.ny.gov/national-family-caregiver-support-program
- Caregiver Support – https://www.usa.gov/disability-caregiver
- AARP – Resources Caregivers Should Know – https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/local/info-2017/important-resources-for-caregivers.html
Stress Management. Mayo Clinic - https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784. Accessed Oct. 28, 2020.