Taking care of someone you love is an important job. Being a caregiver for someone with cancer, dementia, or another chronic illness can be quite rewarding but it can also be pretty challenging and exhausting. For most caregivers, being there to help a loved one who needs you is gratifying, however trying to juggle the responsibilities of caregiving in addition to everyday responsibilities can lead to a significant amount of stress. In fact, it is pretty common for caregivers to feel angry, frustrated, anxious, drained, lonely, or depressed. Many caregivers are caring for their loved one every day or almost every day. This means having less time and energy for work responsibilities, spending time with other family and friends, and taking care of yourself. All of this combined can lead to caregiver stress or caregiver burnout.
Symptoms of caregiver stress can include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
- Life dissatisfaction
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Having frequent headaches, body aches, or stomach upset
- Misusing or abusing alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications
Caregiver stress is due to the emotional and physical demands of caregiving. Experiencing the symptoms of caregiver stress can be harmful to your mental and physical health. It’s important to remember to take steps to reduce this stress in order to prevent health problems. Taking care of yourself also helps you to take better care of your loved one and enjoy the rewards of being a caregiver.
Below are some coping strategies to help manage caregiver stress:
- Take breaks. Although it can be hard to find the time to take a break or you may feel guilty doing so, it’s an important self-care strategy that will ultimately allow you to be a better caregiver. Schedule some time for yourself, spend time with friends, or schedule an occasional day off if you can enlist additional help
- Take care of your health. If you are not physically well, you won’t be able to take care of your loved one either. Make it a priority to eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, take time to exercise, and see your doctor for regular check-ups
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Think of all the ways someone else could help you, whether it’s grocery shopping, cooking a meal, or spending time with your loved one while you run errands. Once you have that list, don’t be afraid to ask for help; many friends and family members are probably happy to help but are just waiting for the green light.
- Set realistic goals. When you are tired and stressed out, even the simplest tasks can seem overwhelming. Break up large tasks into smaller steps that are more manageable.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. If someone ask something of you that you don’t feel you can take on right now, don’t be afraid to say no. You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved one.
- Be organized. Having a routine, to-do lists, and a calendar or planner can help minimize stress as you take on more and more responsibility.
- Seek out professional help. If you are feeling overly stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, consider seeking out therapy or a support group. In addition, many communities have adult daycare services or in-home respite services to give caregivers a necessary break.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that being a caregiver is hard and you don’t have to do it alone. There are resources available to help. If you feel like you are experiencing more stress, anxiety, fatigue, or depression than you can handle while caregiving, reach out to me to learn more about services available.