Medical services are not available in Connecticut. Visit the local Connecticut websites to view a list of services offered.

How to Manage Caregiver Stress

Everyone experiences stress, but what is it? And how can caregivers decrease their stress?

Stress has been defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” This can also include how the body adapts – positively or negatively – to demands. There is both good and bad stress, and both are felt physically.

Caregivers and Stress

Caregiver stress is a significant issue. Research by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP found that 35% of family caregivers have difficulty finding time for themselves, 29% have difficulty managing emotional and physical stress, and 35% are challenged when balancing work and family responsibilities.

Additionally, 53% of these family caregivers said that their health had gotten worse due to caregiving.

The American Psychological Association conducts an annual survey on the causes of stress. (Since 2020, the survey has changed to focus on the pandemic and its effects on mental health). In the 2019 report, health was one of the top three sources of stress in the United States, with cost being the main source of that stress.

The survey also noted that while reports of stress remain fairly constant year to year, there’s a difference in reporting stress based on age, with “Gen Z adults reporting the highest average stress level (5.8), followed by Gen Xers (5.5), millennials (5.4), boomers (4.2) and older adults (3.0).”

Caregiver Issues and Stress: Cause and Effect

While we might have a stress response to an overwhelmingly happy situation such as the marriage of a child or the birth of a grandchild, someone might feel negative stress from worry and too many demands.

While caring multiple hours a day for a loved one while trying to hold down a job (or having given up their job to care for their aging or sick parent) will have its built-in stress, caregivers who are also parents of young children are especially at risk to experience prolonged negative stress.

According to the Mayo Clinic, unchecked stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, as well as affect moods and behaviors and lead to anger, depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, social withdrawal, and more. The National Institute of Mental Health outlines exactly how stress affects the brain when someone is confronted with a demand: “When you face a dangerous situation, your pulse quickens, you breathe faster, your muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity.”

The chronic stress experienced by those providing home care to family members can diminish immunity, and digestive, excretory, and reproductive systems may not continue to “work normally.”

Stress might manifest as tension in the head, neck, and shoulders, fatigue, forgetfulness, feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, or irritability. The American Psychological Association and the American Institute of Stress research found that 77% of people surveyed “regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress” and 73% “regularly experience physiological symptoms caused by stress.”

Is Stress the Same for Everyone?

Surveys have found that family caregivers tend to have more stress than those who are not providing care to a loved one, and the stress increases in proportion to the care needs. In other words, those caring for someone with higher needs – maybe 24-hour assistance – will be more stressed than those caring for someone who might need a little help, like a weekly ride to the grocery store.

If you’re a family caregiver and wondering if you’re stressed out, see if any symptoms on this list from the United States Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health sounds familiar:

  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling alone or isolated
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Feeling worried or sad a lot
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Experiencing headaches or other body aches frequently

Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress

The first step in dealing with caregiver stress is recognizing what it is and what is causing it. It sounds cliché, but experts recommend simply taking a deep breath when you recognize symptoms of stress.

Try these ideas for how to reduce caregiver stress – alone or together with your care recipient:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Aerobic exercise, such as jogging
  • Prayer
  • Eating a healthy diet that puts vegetables and fruits at the fore and limits sugar and other stimulants
  • Taking a walk
  • Making time for activities you enjoy, like knitting, singing, or watching a funny movie
  • Taking a hot bath
  • Getting a massage
  • Listing your stressors and then determining what can be changed to prevent those triggers
  • Getting a good night’s sleep consistently
  • Ask for help
  • Join a caregiver support group

In some instances, it may be necessary and worthwhile to consult your healthcare provider for additional assistance with stress management. For example, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or pain from the shoulder to the arm may be a heart attack and you should seek immediate medical attention.

While stress is not entirely avoidable, people can choose how they react to it and how they care for themselves.

Family caregivers can benefit from reframing their care relationship as that of “partners in care,” so it’s not just them endlessly giving, but also benefitting from shared activities, knowledge, and time spent together – and the emotional rewards that come with that.

No matter what, don’t ignore your stress or hope it will just go away. Be aware of your feelings and symptoms and find positive ways to de-stress and make the care relationship as sustainable as possible.

Manage Caregiver Stress by Getting Help

If you find caregiving duties to be overwhelming, it’s time to bring in some help. The experienced and compassionate team at Homewatch CareGivers offers respite care services to provide a helping hand to those who need support.

When you’re ready for a badly needed break – a day or two off – trained, caring professionals from your local Homewatch CareGivers can provide you with that respite. Call 888-404-5191 or contact us online to restore some balance to your life. Reach out today!

Related Posts