According to Harvard Health, over 65 million Americans care for an older or disabled adult in their lives. With the joy and fulfillment of caregiving, there can also be stress, discouragement, and other challenges that are difficult if you have to face them alone. Whether you are a paid caregiver or are taking care of a family member, this article will show the causes of caregiver stress and how to care for your own mental health while caring for the older adult in your life.
What Is Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress describes a form of stress that accompanies caring for another person. Caregiving can look like taking care of your little ones, caring for an injured or sick family member, caring for someone with a disability, or caring for the older adults in your life.
Along with the rewards of caregiving, there is also emotional and physical strain. If you care for a family member, you are likely with them 24/7. If you are a paid caregiver, you may be on-call throughout the night. These responsibilities and duties can be draining and cause you to feel too exhausted to care for yourself. This is caregiver stress.
Effects of Caregiver Stress
It can be difficult for caregivers to recognize caregiver stress. In fact, those who support and care for others may be used to ignoring their own needs and health. However, as with any form of stress, caregiving stress can have a negative impact on your health and well-being. If you are aware of these effects on your health, you can take preventative measures. Here are some of the most common negative effects caused by caregiver stress.
Women are twice as likely as men to have some form of depression during their lifetime. In addition, an estimated 20 percent of family caregivers and up to 70 percent of all caregivers (paid and unpaid) report suffering from depression influenced by the effect of caregiving stress. Often, caregiver depression is a result of neglecting to care for your own mental health and your own needs. It can be difficult to recognize and validate your needs if you are constantly caring for someone else, but if you neglect your own needs, it could affect how well you’re able to give care.
If you notice a change in sleep patterns, loss of appetite, loss of interest, irritability, thoughts of death or suicide, or feelings of hopelessness persisting for more than two weeks, you may have depression. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to a health professional or therapist right away about how to cope with depression and heal.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports common signs and symptoms of anxiety characteristic to caregiving. These include constant worrying, feelings of inevitable doom, depression, loss of appetite, upset stomach, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, increased heart rate, and excessive sweating. If you have noticed an increase in any of these behaviors, you may suffer from caregiving anxiety.
Caregiving requires sacrifice. You may have to decrease hours at your job, spend less time with your immediate family and say no to social events and outings because of your caregiving responsibilities. This sacrifice is not a difficult decision for most, as caregivers love their patients and family members. However, neglecting to pursue other relationships in your life and maintain a caregiving-life balance can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Caregivers may feel as though nobody else understands the challenges they face or the difficulty of their situation. Caregivers severely decrease their social interaction as they have to be with their recipients often all day and night. In fact, sometimes the only social interaction caregivers partake in is interacting with their recipients.
If you care for someone else’s needs all day while barely scraping by with work and other responsibilities, you likely experience exhaustion. Caring for someone else is tiring. Especially if it decreases the time you have to rest and rejuvenate. You may also experience a lack of sleep with caregiving due to depression, anxiety, or the needs of your recipient. This interrupted sleep cycle and general exhaustion that accompanies caregiving is dangerous and could negatively impact your health.
Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress
Most caregivers report much higher levels of stress than people who are not caregivers. If you don’t have a good support system or don’t have any family taking care of you in return, it can be especially hard to keep up with your mental health. Here are some of the most effective ways to manage your caregiver’s stress and the symptoms that come with it.
Find a Support System
Trying to explain to friends and family the difficulties and challenges of caregiving might seem frustrating. They will likely be unable to understand, and this may feel like you’re complaining rather than seeking healthy support. Consider reaching out to a support group near you. There are numerous online caregiving support groups you can join to listen and help you navigate the challenges of caregiving.
Know When to Ask for Help
Knowing your limits and when to ask for help is vital for maintaining your mental and emotional health while caregiving. If you are able to recognize symptoms of caregiver stress in your life, ask for help. Ask another family member if they’re available to take over for the day or reach out to a support group or therapist. Pushing yourself can cause further mental health decline, so be aware of your limit and don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Prioritize Your Physical Health
Because of the increase in exhaustion and the time demands of caregiving, you may not be getting enough exercise. It’s recommended to get around 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week to adequately maintain your physical health. Getting this exercise can increase endorphins in your body and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety and help you manage caregiver stress.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Your mental health is also a vital component to protect while giving care to the older adult, disabled person, or patient in your life. Here are some of the best tips for integrating mental health into your routine.
- Go on walks
- Engage in notebook therapy and journaling
- Do something you love
- Practice self-care
- Prioritize physical hygiene
- Try out therapy
- Spend time with loved ones
Dedicate Time to Yourself
Sacrificing all your time to serve someone else can quickly become exhausting. Try to set aside a certain amount of time each week for yourself. You can dedicate this time to a hobby you enjoy, physical exercise, self-care in the form of a spa day, or just time to sit down and read a book or watch your favorite television show. You can also use this time to spend an afternoon with friends and stay connected to family members.
Hobbies and activities you enjoy also promote your sense of self and can help you regain purpose and motivation.
Look for Resources to Better Care for Your Loved One
You might feel like caring for the older adult in your life rests solely on your shoulders. However, this is not the case. Contacting a caregiving resource will allow you to take a break. It can be difficult to introduce another form of caregiving into your family member’s routine, but the benefits can allow you to get the rest and time you need to care for them well.
For instance, in-home care can be achieved by hiring a nurse or health aide to visit your older adult or family member. This allows the recipient to continue living independently while still receiving the care they need. An adult day program allows seniors to enjoy educational programs, social interaction, and personal activities in a facility that cares for them during the daytime. This can be especially beneficial for someone with a full-time job.
Independent living facilities are apartment complexes or condos for older adults to live in that also provide social activities, recreational services, and transportation. There are no health care benefits offered with this kind of living, so if your older adult suffers from a serious medical condition, you may want to consider a nursing home.
Talk to Your Doctor
Caregiving is a big responsibility, and if you neglect your needs for rest and rejuvenation while providing care, it can have serious negative effects on your health and wellness. If you notice any of the symptoms of caregiver stress or an increase in physical pain or symptoms, contact your doctor. You can’t care for someone if you aren’t being cared for too, so don’t hesitate to make consistent check-up appointments and stay in touch with your mind and body to recognize symptoms early.
Caring for the older adult in your life is a rewarding opportunity, but it also comes with a lot of sacrifices. Do not allow your health to be part of this sacrifice. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of caregiver stress is the first step to recovery and prevention. By implementing these strategies in your every-day life, you can effectively prevent mental and physical health issues and properly take care of yourself.
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