If you’re a caregiver, we don’t need to tell you that your role is stressful. The majority of caregivers in the United States are unofficial caregivers, meaning they are family members or friends of the person they’re caring for. Unlike professional caregivers, who are paid a salary and work in shifts, unofficial caregivers have a 24/7, all-encompassing job that often can take over all aspects of life. Small wonder that caregiver burnout, also known as caregiver stress syndrome, is such a problem for so many.
“So many caregivers, especially first-time caregivers, end up neglecting their own health for the sake of their loved one,” says Lauren Kessler, Executive Administrator of Bartley Healthcare. “This results in burnout, which is complete exhaustion on the physical, mental and emotional levels. Not only is burnout bad for the caregiver, but it’s also bad for the individual being cared for. It’s simply not possible to provide good care when you are not caring for your needs.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, caregiver stress can cause a wide variety of physical and emotional health issues. Here are just some of them.
● 11% of caregivers’ physical health has declined since becoming a caregiver.
● 45% of caregivers report chronic health conditions like arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and disease, diabetes and others.
● 10% of primary caregivers have experienced physical difficulties and stress from physically assisting their loved one.
● Women caregivers who spend more than 9 hours a week as a caregiver have a 100% increased risk of heart disease.
● 72% of caregivers say they don’t go to the doctor regularly.
● 58% of caregivers report that their eating habits have worsened since becoming a caregiver.
What Causes Caregiver Stress?
Besides the obvious – caring for someone 24/7 – there are other factors that add into the stress level of caregivers. Here are some of them:
● Role confusion. Many people find it difficult to separate their role as a caregiver from their role as a spouse, child or friend.
● Unrealistic expectations. Most, if not all, caregivers have unrealistic expectations on how their help will affect their loved one’s health and happiness, and can become stressed when the reality doesn’t align.
● Lack of control. Not feeling in control can cause frustration and anger for many caregivers.
● Unreasonable demands. Caregivers can place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, while outside family members can also place unreasonable burdens on the caregiver.
Signs of Caregiver Stress and Burnout
It can be difficult to determine the signs of caregiver stress and burnout, because they are very similar to signs of depression. Nonetheless, depression is also a problem among caregivers, so understanding the signs for both of these issues will help you or a loved one notice a problem before it becomes severe. Here are warning signs you should watch for:
● Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried.
● Feeling tired often.
● Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep.
● Gaining or losing weight.
● Becoming easily irritated or angry.
● Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
● Feeling sad.
● Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems.
● Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
It’s essential for caregivers to understand that they aren’t doing this alone, even if it feels that way. Help is available, and friends, family members and community resources are available for when you need assistance. By understanding how to manage caregiver stress and taking steps to alleviate it, your quality of life will improve greatly – as will the quality of life for your loved one.
Tips for Reducing Caregiver Stress and Burnout
1. Ask for help. This is easy to say, but not very easy for many caregivers to do. However, you have to understand that you are not superhuman and that you do need help for your health and sanity. Create a list of specific tasks – big or small – that would be helpful to have off your plate. Then, contact people you know and trust and ask them very specific things to help with. This could be watching your loved one for a few hours while you get a haircut, or having someone pick up groceries for you. This list is very helpful when people ask how they can help – you’ll have specific items that you can immediately ask for.
2. Give yourself grace. Guilt is a common emotion that caregivers experience. Many of them feel like they should be doing more or be a “better” caregiver. It’s important to turn that mental energy into something more beneficial. Remind yourself that you are only human and are doing the very best you can. Meditation and mindfulness practices are great ways to get into this headspace.
3. Find a support group. It can feel like no one in your life understands what you’re going through, which is why it’s so beneficial to be connected with other caregivers who truly experience your situation. There are many support groups in person and online where you can connect with other caregivers to get tips, learn about resources and have a supportive ear when needed.
4. Take care of yourself. It’s easier to be a caregiver when you feel good. Be sure you’re getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and finding ways to de-stress at least once a day. Do something nice for yourself regularly, whether that’s getting a takeout coffee from your favorite place or taking a walk through the park. Anything that makes you feel happier and healthier is a good thing.
5. Stay connected to friends and family. It’s important to nurture all the relationships in your life, not just the one you have with your loved one. Be sure that you’re taking time to let go of the “caregiver” role and spend time with spouses, children and friends. Schedule a weekly coffee date with your sister, or get a walking buddy and exercise once a day while also having a great chat. Staying connected to the other people in your life can help you feel more normal and reminds you that you aren’t alone – and that there are many other people in your life who care about you, too.
6. Consider hiring additional support. Yes, hiring a professional caregiver is an expense, but it’s an expense that may be well worth the money spent. Even if you hire someone to come in once a week for an afternoon, that gives you an afternoon to run errands, take a nap or do something else to de-stress. Knowing that you’re leaving your loved one in professional, caring hands can help ease any uncertainty and allow you to focus on caring for yourself.
In order to be the best caregiver possible, it’s essential to practice habits to maintain and nurture your own personal health and well-being. Remember, there are many resources that can help you provide the best possible care to your loved one – and yourself, too.
Exceptional Care. Experience You Trust.
As a family-owned, privately operated community, Bartley Healthcare has been a leader of health and eldercare services and maintained an excellent reputation for over 34 years.
At Bartley Healthcare, we strive to provide an exceptional care experience to all of our residents and families. Our commitment results in positive outcomes that enhance your life, no matter what services you need. From our patient and resident satisfaction surveys to our awards and accreditations, we have experience you can trust.
For more information or to schedule a tour, contact our team today at 732-372-4055.