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Recognizing and Addressing Caregiver Stress

Being in a caregiving role for an older adult can be rewarding, but it can also be stressful. 


What is Caregiver Stress?

Caregiver stress is real. Studies have shown that 40% of family caregivers feel emotionally stressed, 20% feel physically strained, 40% to 70% have clinically significant symptoms of depression, and 17% experience a decline in their general health. 

Caregiver stress can go by many names:

  • Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting in fatigue, depression, or anxiety

  • Caregiver burden is the cumulative physical, emotional, social, and financial impact of providing care and can lead to health problems. 

  • Compassion fatigue is characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others.


Signs of Caregiver Stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't realize your own health and well-being are suffering.  A self-assessment can help you identify your level of stress. 

Some signs of caregiver stress include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried

  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep and feeling tired

  • Being easily irritated or angry

  • Experiencing frequent headaches or bodily pain

  • Feeling frustrated and then helpless or sad

  • Using alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications 

  • Gaining or losing weight = eating too much or not enough

  • Losing interest in activities

  • Withdrawing from others


Tips for Addressing Caregiver Stress

  1.  Practice Acceptance. Remember that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. You are doing the best you can and making the best decisions that you can at the given time.  Don’t try to make sense of the situation or blame someone else for the way things are. 

  2.  Focus on What You Can Control.  You cannot control everything related to your loved one, but you can control specific aspects of their care or how you react to situations. 

  3. Set Realistic Goals.  Divide tasks into smaller manageable ones that you can accomplish over time. Use the Mellie app to prioritize goals and tasks and note your accomplishments.  Be willing to say “no” to requests that can drain your energy, such as hosting a holiday meal.  

  4. Enlist Others to Help. Don’t assume that others know you need assistance or how they can be of help.  Make a list of tasks that they can help so you are prepared ahead of time. Ask friends, family, or neighbors to provide a meal, run an errand, stop by for a visit, or take out the garbage.  Ask family members who are not nearby to help with tasks accomplished online or by phone.  

  5. Join a Support Group.  Caregiver support groups, available online and in person, provide valuable social support and an opportunity to share insights and resources with others who are in similar situations.  

  6. Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health. Don’t skip check-ups and appointments, eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise - try stretching for three 10-minute sessions a day. Seek counseling to address your mental well-being.  Talking to a therapist about the burdens of caregiving and associated emotions can provide much needed relief. 

  7. Practice Relaxation Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude. If this is new for you, many mobile apps are available to help get you started. 

  8. Take a Break and Maintain Your Social Connections and Activities.  Give yourself permission to take time and get out of the house, even if it is just a few hours.  See what family caregiver respite services are offered by your county.

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