We’ve spoken in length before about how exhausting, stressful, and even heartbreaking it can be to be a family caregiver. If you’ve got the time, give our episode “Caring for the Caregiver” a listen or if you prefer watching it on our YouTube channel for an in-depth guide to avoiding caregiver burn out and learning how to put yourself first, even as you devote so much of your time, energy, and love to the person in your care.
We know, though, that caregivers don’t have a lot of time to spare – it can be difficult just to take a break for a glass of water (although we hope these tips can change that). Because of that, we thought it would be a good idea to do a quick tip episode about dealing with caregiver stress.
This is a basic rundown, a fast-paced version of our Caring for the Caregiver episode – but we hope it’ll leave you with some great tools for dealing with those especially long and tiresome days.
While it can be immensely rewarding to care for a loved one, it’s no secret that being a caregiver can be one of the most stressful jobs out there.
In fact, according to a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, caregivers report significantly higher levels of stress compared to non-caregivers. The American Psychological Association placed caregivers in the top three most stressed out groups in the country.
With that in mind, we want you to know that we see you. We see the hours upon hours you’re putting into each day – changing your loved one’s clothes, handling their mood swings, making sure they get their medication, cooking meals.
We see the time you’re losing with friends, family, other responsibilities, and even just time for you. We see the great sacrifices you’ve made – whether with your career, your family, your home, or your relationships. We see that you’re doing it all from a place of love.
It’s incredibly important, though, that you do not lose yourself in the shuffle. It’s hard for caregivers to ever put themselves first – their job description literally doesn’t make room for that.
But the fact of the matter is, when we put ourselves first, we are actually in a better place to care for those around us. That’s because when we’re nurtured, rested, and energized we can do our job a whole lot better than when we’re barely eating, barely sleeping, and exhausted.
It might seem impossible to put ourselves first as caregivers. It might seem impossible just to take a break. But I promise you that when you do – when you actively put in the steps to care for yourself and relieve some of that stress – you will feel so much better. You will care for your loved one better. You will save yourself from ultimate burn out. And you will get to reap more of the reward that comes from caregiving, and less of the stress and frustration.
The first step to managing caregiver stress is to learn how to recognize it when it happens. There are many signs that your stress is beginning to build up – and that you are either feeling or close to feeling burn out.
First, take a look at your emotions. Have you become more irritable, easily frustrated, and even started lashing out at your loved one? Do you snap when they repeat the same thing again and again? Do you rush them when they’re trying to get dressed? These are all normal reactions to caring for a deteriorating loved one. It can be endlessly frustrating to watch a loved one take minutes to button a shirt when you’re running late for an appointment. But if you find yourself outwardly losing your patience, and snapping at your loved one, this is a sign that your stress levels are too high.
It’s essential that caregivers are patient and loving toward the person in their care. Snapping or acting in anger can lead to enormous stress for the loved one and only exacerbate already difficult situations. In some cases, it can lead to feelings of distrust and even isolation. If you find that you’re jumping to anger, it’s time to take a step back and focus on caring for yourself.
Another sign of too much stress is feelings of depression. Are you experiencing crying bursts on a regular basis? Do you find yourself feeling in despair at even the smallest of difficulties? Are you having trouble getting out of bed, eating, or taking care of yourself at all? Have you lost interest in caring for your loved one?
Depression is all too common in caregivers – but it is something that must be addressed, so that your health is not impacted and the person in your care’s health is not impacted either.
Lack of sleep or other sleep problems are another sign that stress is becoming too much. If you find that your mind just won’t stop churning at night, that you’re having nightmares, or that you’re waking up more tired than when you went to sleep – it’s time to get some help and take care of yourself.
Other signs of stress are extreme changes in weight, physical health problems, and feelings of loneliness and isolation.
If any of these resonate with you, it’s time to address the stress. Even if they don’t, you’ll want to practice these stress relieving tips early on, because they’re incredibly preventative and can keep you from getting to those low points.
Our first tip is to accept that you cannot do everything yourself. Caregivers have a tendency to put all the responsibility on their own shoulders – and feel guilty asking for help from anyone else. This is a tough job and it’s too big for any one person. So take help when you need it.
Whether you need someone to clean the house, run the errands, or give respite care from time to time, get the help you need. When you’re no longer doing everything all by yourself, you’ll feel a huge sense of relief – and you’ll get to focus on what really matters (spending time with your loved one) instead of spending quality time washing dishes or doing other chores.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to seek out professional guidance. Therapists and support groups are a valuable resource for caregivers. You might find that when you get to talk out loud about your own worries, wants, and needs, that you’re actually releasing a lot of those built-up emotions, and will be less likely to lash out.
At the same time, a therapist can give you tools that will help with your individual situation. Advice for what to do when your loved one pushes your buttons, when things feel like they’re just too much, or when you need a break.
Support groups can give you a community of people who are going through what you are. Sometimes, it’s difficult for caregivers to speak with friends or family who do not understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. A support group understands – and talking through your experiences with a like-minded community can be incredibly healing and strengthening.
Our third tip is to take breaks. Yep, take all the breaks you need. Find someone who can care for your loved one when you are not available and take some time every week – whether a couple of hours or an entire day – to do something just for you. I’m not talking about a day off to do laundry or clean your own apartment. I’m talking about a real break – spent doing something you love. Breaks are re-invigorating. You’ll find that you come back from breaks feeling reenergized and in a much better state of mind.
But breaks don’t just come in the form of days off. Take little breaks throughout the workday as well. Drink a glass of water. Read a chapter of a book. Eat lunch. Breaks are an essential part of self-care and they are a need that every human must fulfill for themselves.
Caregiving is far from easy – but if you ask for help, find professional care, and learn how to take breaks, you might find that it’s a lot easier than it used to be. There are plenty of other ways to relieve stress as well (and you can find out what they are on our Caring for the Caregiver episode), but these are a great three to start with.
At the end of the day some very simple and practical advice that we always remind families of at our Caregiver Support Groups is – when you care for yourself, you are also caring for those around you.
We want to thank you for joining us here at All Home Care Matters, All Home Care Matters is here for you and to help families as they navigate long-term care issues. Please visit us at allhomecarematters.com there is a private secure fillable form there where you can give us feedback, show ideas, or if you have questions. Every form is read and responded to. If you know someone who could benefit from this episode, please share it with them.
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