The Mayo Clinic estimates that one in three adults in the United States currently provides informal care to another adult – and that number is expected to grow. Unfortunately, many individuals are thrust into a caregiver role with little notice or preparation. While caregiving can be rewarding, the lack of training or preparation to handle the physical, financial, and emotional demands of providing care can have negative consequences.
What is Caregiver Stress?
Caring for a loved one in addition to addressing your own needs and responsibilities can lead to chronic stress. High levels of stress left untreated can eventually lead to caregiver burnout.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
The Cleveland Clinic describes caregiver burnout as “…a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able, physically or financially.”
Chronic stress leaves caregivers vulnerable to developing chronic health problems, which may include depression, fatigue, anxiety, and other issues.
Symptoms of Caregiver Stress and Burnout
The symptoms of caregiver stress syndrome and burnout shares many similarities with the symptoms of stress and depression. Being aware the condition exists and knowing the warning signs can help you identify and receive treatment sooner.
Following are some of the more common symptoms associated with caregiver stress. For a full list, visit the Mayo Clinic’s website. Caregivers who are experiencing any of the symptoms below should speak with their doctor or mental health professional:
- Lack of energy and interest in doing things that you once enjoyed
- Constantly fatigued
- Easily irritated or angered
- Frequently worried
- Sleeping too much, or too little
Any of these symptoms together or individually could be caused by any number of potential issues, which is why it’s so important to seek help. Failing to seek help may cause the caregiver to turn to other ways of coping, which can negatively impact the caregiver and those they care for.
How to Cope with Caregiver Stress
If you believe you may be experiencing caregiver stress or burnout, speak to a medical professional. They will work with you to formalize a diagnosis, seek causes, and explore treatments.
To prevent or ease the stress resulting from your role as a caregiver, it’s vital that you explore all of your support options. In addition to family and friends, there are also professional support groups that may be able to help.
Be realistic about what you can and cannot achieve, and ask for assistance with other tasks. Know when to say “no” and speak with other caregivers who may be experiencing the same challenges.
In addition, be sure to:
- Take time for yourself. Explore options such as asking a friend or other caregiver to relieve you for a few hours or scheduling an adult day care appointment. Use your time to go for a hike, take a long drive, or enjoy a few hours of self-care.
- Schedule time for breaks. Even if it’s just taking a walk around the house or setting aside time after lunch to take a few deep, mindful breaths – regular breaks can help you rest and recharge. They also give you moments to look forward to throughout the day.
- Be social outside of your caregiving duties. Since caregivers have a higher risk of becoming socially isolated, being intentional about connecting with friends and family is important. Chat via Zoom or FaceTime, invite a friend to lunch, or join a virtual or local book club.
- Tend to your own health needs. Eat at regular intervals, maintain a sleep schedule, go to your own doctor appointments, and take all medications as prescribed. Make your health a priority so you can continue to act in your role as caregiver.
Caregiving can be a physically and emotionally demanding job. Understanding its potential benefits and challenges will enable you to provide the best care possible. Don’t hesitate to seek help and support, and remember that you do not have to bear the responsibility of caring for a loved one on your own.
Additional Resources for Caregivers
For additional caregiver tips and resources, visit The Bristal’s blog.