Family caregivers are essential in maintaining the health and well-being of individuals with chronic and disabling conditions. Thus, caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you are a caregiver, take steps to preserve your well-being and health.
A caregiver is an individual who gives help to another person in need, such as a disabled child, an ill spouse or partner, or an aging relative. However, family members actively caring for older adults often do not self-identify as “caregivers.” Acknowledging this role can help caregivers receive the support they need.
While caring for a loved one can be very fulfilling, it also involves many stressors. And since caregiving is a long-term challenge most of the time, the emotional impact can snowball over time. It can yield months or even years of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening if you feel that you’re in over your head, if there is no hope that your family member will get better, or if, despite your best efforts, their condition is gradually deteriorating as time progresses.
Suppose the stress of caregiving is left unchecked. In that case, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout, a form of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. And when you reach that point, you and the person you care for will suffer.
Causes For Caregivers’ Stress and Burnout
Caregivers risk developing stress and eventual burnout if they can no longer balance their needs with the responsibility of caring for someone else. Eleanor Gaccetta’s book about life as a caregiver is an easy read, honestly written over the decade of her caring for her mother, and provides suggestions and information that all caregivers can utilize.
The term “burnout” was coined in a clinical study to describe volunteers struggling to meet their excessive demands.
Burnout among caregivers can be expressed in three ways:
- Emotional exhaustion causes a caregiver to feel emotionally drained and overloaded at the thought of providing care to the patient.
- Depersonalization describes a caregiver’s psychological and emotional detachment toward the care patient.
- There is a reduced sense of personal achievement.
Many situations can lead to caregiver burnout and stress. Just watching a loved one decline every day and move toward the end stage of life can be a very depressing and stressful event. There were also times when the brunt of caregiving responsibility falls on just one person’s shoulders. This could lead to discontentment if other family members were not helping. In addition, the caregiving experience of patients with mental illness is often different than those with physical conditions.
Caregivers also endure endless logistical challenges, bills, and long waits on hold. This is particularly challenging for caregivers helping those with long-term physical conditions, memory problems, and mental or emotional, as they need more supervision.
Other caregivers identify a lack of training that could help lessen their burdens and stress. To some, caregivers identified topics of interest such as finding suitable activities, keeping the recipient safe, completing paperwork, and managing caregiver stress. Other popular topics include:
- Handling personal finances.
- Making end-of-life decisions.
- Managing complex behaviors in recipients.
- Choosing a care facility.
Every job has its challenges. Thus, it is natural for caregivers to experience a certain level of frustration and negative emotions from time to time. But left unchecked and unchanged, these feelings can snowball, resulting in prolonged anger, depression, and sadness over what they have had to sacrifice. Guilt, regret, and even grief can follow—or worse, suicidal thoughts and abusive behavior.
Ways For Dealing Caregiver Stress and Other Challenges
The demands of caregiving (both physical and emotional) can strain even the most resilient person. That is why taking advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one is vital. Bear in mind that if you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for anyone else.
To help manage caregiver stress:
- Accept help. Be always prepared with a list of ways others can help you. Let the helper pick out what they would like to do.
- Focus on what you can provide. It is normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver.
- Set realistic goals. Break big tasks into smaller steps and do them one at a time. Always prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine.
- Get connected and join a support group. Find out about caregiving support in your community. Caregiving services such as meal delivery, housekeeping, or transportation may be available. Also, a support group can provide validation, encouragement, and problem-solving strategies for difficult situations.
- Seek social support. Try your best to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer non-judgmental emotional support.
- Set personal health goals. A good example is to find time to be physically active on most days of the week, set goals to establish a good sleep routine, drink plenty of water, and eat a healthy diet.
- Get enough sleep. Many caregivers have concerns about sleeping. Not having a quality sleep over a long period can cause health issues.
- See your doctor. Get recommended vaccinations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you are a caregiver. Do not hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
As Gaccetta stresses in One Caregiver’s Journey taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is a necessity – you cannot care for another if you are not well. Cultivating your own emotional and physical well-being is just as important as ensuring your family member gets to their doctor’s appointment or takes their medication on time.