According to a 2015 report, about 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult aged 50 and older, usually a parent, spouse or other relative. As the primary caregiver, they may provide help with a range of personal care activities for their older loved one, including dressing, grooming, medication management, grocery shopping, meal preparation, transportation, and other daily tasks.
While caregiving is a rewarding, selfless act of service, it can also be highly demanding. Family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week performing caregiving duties, and nearly 1 in 4 caregivers spend more than 41 hours a week caring for a loved one in addition to balancing their work and family duties. Over time, caregiving may take a physical, emotional, and financial toll on the caregiver, causing them to neglect their personal wellbeing and experience what’s known as caregiver stress.
Caregiver stress occurs when the emotional and physical strain of caregiving becomes too overwhelming, leading to feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and even serious mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. If you’re the sole caregiver for an older loved one, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself, too! Follow these tips for managing and preventing caregiver stress.
Know the signs
Caregiver stress may take many different forms. Some family caregivers experience extreme emotional, mental, and physical fatigue. Others may find themselves making mistakes while providing care due to exhaustion or sleep deprivation, and accidentally put their loved one at risk. And unfortunately, some caregivers may begin abusing alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress of caregiving. Knowing the signs of caregiver stress can help you recognize them in yourself or a family member and prevent the stress from escalating.
Some signs and symptoms of caregiver stress include:
- Feelings of helplessness
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleep deprivation/insomnia, or getting too much sleep
- Poor nutrition or loss of appetite – gaining or losing weight at a rapid rate
- Daily fatigue or exhaustion
- Irritability or irrational anger
- Feelings of anxiety or depression
- Weakened immune system
If you notice one or more of these signs, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and concerns.
Join a caregiver support group
One way to manage the emotional side of caregiving is by joining a support group. In a caregiver support group, you can express your feelings and receive advice and validation from others in similar situations. Often, just being in the same room as group members going through the same struggles can help caregivers feel less isolated and reduce their stress. There are many different types of online and in-person support groups, including groups for caregivers of individuals with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.
Take care of your own health
Another reason caregivers experience stress and burnout is by putting they put their loved one’s health and wellbeing above their own. When you don’t take care of your health, it’s hard to provide quality care for someone else. Make time for the things you enjoy, whether it’s going to the movies, reading a book, getting a massage, gardening, or taking up a new hobby. Be sure you’re taking care of yourself by eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising a few times a week.
There’s no reason to feel guilty or ashamed about experiencing caregiver stress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to seek help. Consider the benefits of a long-term care solution for your senior loved one, such as an assisted living community. In assisted living, your loved one will have access to support 24 hours a day from caring professionals and nurses in a safe, welcoming environment. Assisted living brings peace of mind to both residents and their families, helping caregivers alleviate stress and avoid the risk of burnout.