How to Manage Family Caregiver Stress
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Caregiving for your family members never stops. Taking on the family caregiver role doesn’t come with paid time off or set vacation days. You are always on duty, and even when you take a break there is a part of you still connected to the loved one you are caring for. As a caregiver, you are providing immeasurable care to your loved ones. But who is caring for you? If you can figure out what your major source of caregiver stress is, you can make a plan to help you keep your tank full.

1. Feeling like You’re Always on Duty

When you take on the responsibility of caring for your loved one, it can include physical tasks, medication reminders, dressing, meal preparation, transportation to appointments, and more. Whatever the level of care that you provide, you are always connected emotionally and physically to the person you are caring for. This constant feeling of being on alert for their needs can leave you drained.

What Can Help

Figure out what is realistic for you to be able to do. Simplify and cut back on areas that are draining you. This could mean:

  • Have prescriptions delivered. Use an online pharmacy delivery to have your loved one’s prescriptions delivered right to your door.
  • Take a break. Ask a friend to stay with your loved one for an hour or two.
  • Use respite care. Arrange for respite care and take advantage of this time to set yourself up to provide care again.

2. Feeling Physically Worn Out

You make demands on your body all day so that you can meet the needs of your loved one. You help your loved one get out of bed, even though your back is aching. You do all the things to make sure that your loved one’s needs are met. At the end of the day, you fall into bed exhausted but you can’t sleep. It could be that your mind continues to race with all the list of things to do or that your sleep is interrupted by your loved one needing you again.

This exhaustion can cause you to become anxious, irritable, and edgy wondering how much longer you can continue to do this. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 1 out of 10 caregivers say that caregiving has caused a decline in their physical health. You are not alone in your exhaustion.

What Can Help

Pay attention to what your body is telling you. You won’t be able to continue to provide care for your loved one by ignoring your own health needs. If you are experiencing new aches and pains, not sleeping or you are letting your health slide - you are putting your physical and mental health at risk. We are always told during the emergency directions on a flight “Put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting those who need help.” Try to:

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor. You might be able to do a phone or video consultation or be seen by the same doctor as your loved one.
  • Set personal health goals that are simple and realistic. You can plan to eat healthier for the week or go to bed early once a week.
  • Ask for help during the night. Talk to a health professional about how to help your loved one sleep if they are waking you. If you are having trouble sleeping as a caregiver ask for help from a family member during the nighttime.

3. Feeling Like You Don’t Know What You are Doing

Many family caregivers have not been trained on how to provide care for their loved one. You might not fully understand your loved one’s limitations or disease, as many progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease can change quickly or even change day to day. You may feel like you have figured out what to do and then the situation changes. Many caregivers are also providing complex care such as dealing with wounds and other complicated medical conditions. You are constantly trying to figure out what needs to be done but feeling like you don’t have the skills or the knowledge to know what to do.

What Can Help

Admit what you don’t know. Recognize that you are being asked to care for somebody and that can be outside of your skillset.

  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of all the health professionals you deal with including the doctor, the nurse, the occupational therapist, and the pharmacist. Ask them what they recommend and why it is necessary. Ask how you can make care easier.
  • Reach out for support. Find support groups of people who are in the same situation - whether it's an online support group, a family member, or a friend. Talk about your struggles and what you don’t know. It is highly likely that if you are struggling with a situation somebody else has too.
  • Educate yourself. Find trusted sources of information to learn more about your loved one’s illness or limitations. Caregiving resources can range from safe exercise plans to cognitive activities for your loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

4. Feeling All Alone

As the caregiving needs of your loved one increase, you might find that your life revolves around caring for them. You can go days or weeks without talking to anybody but the person you are caring for. You might not be able to go to the usual activities that you once enjoyed. Sometimes it can feel like the people you socialize with don’t understand what you are experiencing.

What Can Help

Be honest with those in your life who want to help you. Let them know that getting together might be difficult. Look for ways to connect with others that work for your situation.

  • Reach out to your friends and family. Ask a friend if they can call you weekly just to talk about things you are both interested in.
  • Look for professional help. Talk to a therapist about your situation. Many therapists can do appointments through phone or video.
  • Think about other long-term care options. Consider using respite care services to allow you the opportunity to do something for yourself.

Caregiving can be a long and difficult journey. You are providing care because your loved one needs you. You are doing important work, but caring can wear you down with the continual demands. Being aware of what are the things that are causing your stress can help you to figure out how to overcome them. Take care of yourself so you can keep taking care of those you love.

Resources

Cleveland Clinic: Caregiver Burnout

Family Caregiver Alliance: Caregiver Health

National Institute on Aging: Alzheimer’s Caregiving – Caring for YOurself

About the Author(s)

Crystal Jo is a Registered Nurse who is passionate about helping older adults live happy, healthy lives at home. As a freelance writer, she enjoys educating and inspiring seniors, and those who love them, to choose a healthy life.

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