Out of love, out of obligation or maybe based on a promise made more than 30 years ago, you might be one of more than 40 million adults in North America taking care of an elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved one.
According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of family caretakers take care of one person over 65, while 22 percent help two people and 7 percent care for three or more people. Thirty-six percent of family caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful, according to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
In November 2021, the Genworth insurance firm found that 42 percent of family caregivers experience depression, mood swings or resentment as a result of their labors. Thirty percent reported sleep deprivation, and 43 percent said caregiving responsibilities have negatively affected their relationship with a spouse or partner.
If you’ve ever acted as a caregiver for someone, you’re probably familiar with just how taxing an experience it can be. Caregivers are often so focused on the needs of their loved ones that they neglect their own well-being, which typically leads to what is called caregiver burnout.
This term refers to the state of exhaustion resulting from prolonged caregiver stress, which can have serious consequences. In fact, according to the Harvard Medical School, more than 20 percent say that the stress of caregiving has negatively impacted their own health.
Caregivers are often so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect themselves. Other things that can lead to caregiver burnout include:
- Role confusion. You may feel confused to be a caregiver. It can be hard to separate this role from the one of spouse, child or friend.
- Unrealistic expectations. You may expect your care to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the person you care for. This may be unrealistic for patients who have a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
- Lack of control. It can be frustrating to deal with lacking the money, resources and skills to manage your loved one’s care well.
- Unreasonable demands. You make take on too much, partly because you see providing care as your job alone.
- Other factors. You may not recognize when you’re burned out and get to the point where you can’t function well. You may even get sick yourself.
The obvious signs of caregiver stress and burnout include:
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Feelings of irritability, resentment or hopelessness
- Inability to relax
- Sleep disturbance
- Feeling tired and depleted
- Difficulty focusing
- Changes in appetite or weight
- More frequent sicknesses
- Increased substance abuse
It’s not possible to completely eliminate caregiver stress, but there are many ways to give yourself a break and reduce the negative effects on your body and mind.
That’s why it’s so important to do your best to let go of the things that are stressing you out. Whenever possible, put down those worries.
The following steps are a great place to start.
- Prioritize your health. This is easier said than done. Even small changes toward a healthier diet, better sleep and more exercise can make a big difference in your overall well-being.
- Give yourself a break. Ask a friend or relative to fill in for you for a few hours occasionally so you can take a walk, watch a movie or go out to dinner. Look for home help, respite care or day programs in your area that can help ease some of your burdens. It could do wonders for your mental health.
- Simplify your communication. Keeping extended family and friends up to date about your loved one’s situation through phone calls or individual emails can be tiring, and you may not want to broadcast that information on social media. Trying using a website that allows you to post updates to everyone simultaneously with controls to protect your loved one’s privacy.
- Join a support group. If you feel like you’re alone in your struggle, talking with other family caregivers can lift your spirits and help you think through solutions to various problems. You may be able to find a support group through a local church or hospital. If you’re taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association offers a locator for support groups in your area.
Don’t carry them all day, all night, and when you’re taking breaks.
It’s one thing to say you should let go of stress and not dwell on things.
It’s another matter to put that into practice, especially when caregiving goes on for years and the worries are right in front of you.
Don’t let the fact that you’re feeling stressed cause you even more stress!