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Caregiving: Finding Balance

Caregiving is a demanding job and can take a toll. Find out if you’re suffering from caregiver stress and what you can do about it.

By Lila Havens, Contributing Writer

If you are a caregiver, you may already know the rewards of caregiving. You may also know there are stressors such as changes in your loved one’s health, extra workload, physically demanding tasks or even financial issues. Learning how to recognize stress and develop coping strategies can help you manage the your stress, as well as stress that affects a friend or family member.

Often, caregivers may give so much that they shortchange themselves. They may become overwhelmed and isolated. Their own health suffers. So does their ability to give care. As a caregiver, you need and deserve support, so you can look after your own health while providing the care your loved one requires.

As a person who is ill, often being cared for can take an emotional strain, especially if he or she had previously been independent and physically active. Find ways of being supportive of the person and the “new normal” they are experiencing. You may find them being easily irritated, but don’t take this personally.  Discuss this with the doctor, especially if the onset of irritability is sudden.

Caregiver stress can develop from the physical and emotional strain of caregiving. Examples of caregiver stress may include feeling helpless or angry and frustrated.  You might find you are making errors when giving medications, developing unhealthy habits such drinking too much alcohol or smoking. More signs and symptoms of caregiver stress may include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling isolated, alone, or abandoned by others
  • Sleeping troubles (too much or too little)
  • Noting changes in weight (losing or gaining weight)
  • Feeling of constant tiredness
  • Having no interest or enjoyment in activities you used to like
  • Becoming quickly angered or irritated
  • Feeling worried or sad
  • Having frequent body aches, pain or headaches

Talk to your doctor or health care provider about any of the above symptoms.
Here are some tips that may help you manage stress as a caregiver:

Learn as much you can about your loved one’s condition and what to expect as his or her caregiver. Knowledge is power.  Talking with your loved one’s doctor and looking into organizations that are specific to the medical condition are a good place to start.

Ask for help and accept it. Caregivers can fall into the trap of thinking they are the only ones who can care for their loved one. This isn’t so. Hold a family meeting and ask other family members to commit to helping. Neighbors and friends may also be a source of support. Your local place of worship may also be a good source of support and getting the help you need.

When asking for help, be specific. For example, someone could provide care for an hour or two each week, so you can do errands or get some much-needed time alone. You could ask someone to help with housework, lawn care or paying bills.

Make use of community resources. Many communities have services to support caregivers and their loved ones. These may include education programs, delivery of meals, adult daycare, respite care, home health aides and housekeeping help. The National Eldercare Locator, found online at eldercare.gov or 1-800-677-1116 can help you find services in your area.

Find a support group. Most caregivers say isolation is their biggest source of stress. Being able to talk to others who share your experiences can be helpful. Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association may host local support groups. Or check with local hospitals or senior centers.

Schedule time for yourself. This is not selfish. “Me time” is necessary for your mental and physical health. It can help you be a better caregiver. Have someone cover for you so you can pursue your hobbies, go to church or spend time with friends. Even finding half an hour to soak in the bathtub or go for a walk can help you recharge.

Take care of yourself and your health. Your wellbeing is important. You won’t be able to help your loved one or yourself if you become ill.

Be sure to eat a healthy diet, get some exercise and get regular checkups. Consider learning some ways to reduce stress, such as yoga, deep breathing or meditation. You can get some affordable yoga, stretching or workout  DVDs. Or check them out from your local library if getting to a class is difficult.

Give yourself credit. You’re doing an important job. No one is perfect, but you should feel good about what you do.

Sources:

Women's Health.gov. Caregiver stress. Accessed: March 30, 2016.
HelpGuide.org. Caregiver stress and burnout. Accessed: March 30, 2016.
Caregiver.org. Ten steps to get you started. Accessed: March 30, 2016.
National Caregivers Library. Caregiving basics. Accessed: March 30, 2016.

Last Updated: March 30, 2016