Guest Blog by Camille Holder and Laura Goldstein
Being a caregiver is a rewarding position that nourishes the soul, but with a tradeoff. Taking care of a loved one or patient can be overwhelmingly taxing, both physically and mentally. Caregiver stress can take a toll on your overall health and well-being, leading to burnout. Spending most of your energy and time caring for others can cause you to lose perspective on your own needs.
It’s normal to experience frustration, anxiety, sadness, anger, or loneliness while in this position. Regardless of your pre-existing mental health factors, these stressors can become catalysts to depression, anxiety, guilt, and low self-esteem if you haven’t experienced these already. Even for the most tenacious individuals, caregiving can strain every facet of your life.
Experiencing the hardships of caregiving puts you in a vulnerable position mentally: you are far more prone to developing clinical depression and acting on harmful coping mechanisms. Every caregiver has different duties depending on the person they’re caretaking. While some caregivers are responsible for assisting their loved ones with housekeeping to bathing, even caregivers with lighter duties experience immense stress and mental health issues that often go unnoticed.
Signs and Dispositions of Caregiver Stress
Signs you’re neglecting your mental health while being a caregiver can be challenging to pinpoint, as most of the symptoms arise and develop behind the scenes or when you’re too occupied to notice. Prioritizing yourself may sound or feel selfish, but we have to stop associating selfishness with the negative connotation societies attaches! We all know you’re supposed to put your own mask on first! And doing so will better equip you to handle the very situations and tasks that create this stress.
Confiding in someone you trust about these issues can give you an outsider’s point of view. Getting a fresh perspective from another set of eyes can help ground you and clear the air, making things less overwhelming. Caregivers also enter their position from different cultural backgrounds, and expectations as well as individually unique risk factors. Depending on your mental health beforehand, the aspects of caregiving will drastically drain you much faster.
Risk Factors of Caregiving Stress Include:
- Lack of formal training
- Pre-existing emotional vulnerability (e.g., depression, lack of coping skills, etc.)
- Medical issues (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.)
- Financial stress
- Difficult temperament of the person you’re caring for
- Living with the person you’re caring for
- Lack of passion in being a caregiver
- High pressure and/or time consuming career
- Couples or family relationships distress
- Parenting children with significant medical or mental health needs
- Social isolation
Signs of Caregiving Stress Include:
- Feeling sad all the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Perpetual lethargy and feeling sluggish
- Drastic weight changes
- Constant sense of anxiety or paranoia
- Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Fragile temperament, easily angered or irritable
- Migraines and headaches
- Pervasive sense of guilt or inadequacy either during caregiving tasks or during non-caregiving related tasks
- Resorting to negative coping mechanisms such as drug abuse, isolation, or self-harm
Tackling these signs is imperative, as stress takes a massive physical toll on the body. If these symptoms are left ignored, they will ultimately deteriorate your body. Not only will you reach a breaking point in caregiving, but you will reach a breaking point in all other facets of your life.
Treatment and Coping Skills for Caregiver Stress
Despite the hardships you may face, this doesn’t have to mean you should opt, quit, or delegate all caregiving to someone else. You can still care for your loved one while caring for yourself by practicing coping skills and establishing mental health treatment for yourself.
The physical and emotional demands of caregiving leave less room for free time. It’s easy to find yourself tangled in the fixation of caring for others. But caring for you is vital. Practicing self-care is achievable in different ways, such as through physical, spiritual, or mental activities. For most individuals, self-care is simply engaging in your hobbies. It can look like lit candles and a bubble bath, or a cup of tea. For others, it may look like a weekend of spending time with friends. Or Endeavoring on a personal retreat can open your mind and keep you grounded in the present moment.
But self-care isn’t just about relaxing. It can also look like saying no to invitations or obligations that drain you. Or allowing yourself to feel guilt-free about a day doing absolutely nothing productive but just BEING. It can be hard to access that guilt-free mindset when thoughts about what else we “should” be doing pop into our heads. So self-care often requires the ability to let intrusive thoughts drift away without getting stuck. Practices like mindfulness and medication can help build and strengthen this cognitive pathway.
Therapy is a reliable option if you find yourself struggling with the hurdles of caregiving. It creates a space where focusing on YOU and nobody else is the priority. A therapist will carry the expertise and knowledge of coping skills and compassion to provide support and/or solutions.
Scheduling and attending regular therapy appointments can feel like an added burden to your caregiving schedule. But it might be helpful to prioritize time with your therapist, and think of it as part of the job requirement. And of your guilt for being away from caregiving tasks makes this feel even less attainable, that’s all the more sign of the fact that you need this!
However, attending therapy sessions in person isn’t the only choice; you also can opt for online therapy and attend sessions in the comfort of your home. This also cuts down on the travel time which may help it feel more attainable. Whether you see a therapist in person or online, it’s important to ensure that time is free from caretaking obligations or distractions so you can fully prioritize yourself!
Respite care is an important option to consider if you need a break from caregiving altogether, even for a temporary period. This can be a tough decision to make. At first it may feel like you are abandoning the ones you care for. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Taking a break will be beneficial to you and your loved one. Plus, most people who require caretaking actually report feeling relief from guilt or the sense of being burdensome when their caregiver seeks some respite. Research what respite care options are available in your area, as a variety of respite care opportunities are increasingly common.
Examples of Respite Care Include:
- In-home: a variety of health services will tend to your loved one in the home, as well as provide house keeping tasks and companionship so that your loved one has both supervision and support.
- Long-term care: These communities are built for an overnight stay, whether your loved one stays several weeks or a few days. These homes are supervised by staff around the clock.
- Adult day center: This is an assisted living option with staff supervision and plenty of activities your loved one can partake in with the other patients.
Being a caregiver can cause you to believe that you need to do it all…be everything to everyone. And eventually you will feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. Experiencing frustrations and trying to get help does not mean that you’ve failed! Your awareness of caregiver stress and your willingness to alleviate it means that you are succeeding in the very difficult task of caregiving!
Check out Aging.com for other resources for caregivers and their aging loved ones.
About the Authors
Camille Holder and Laura Goldstein, LCMFT co-authored this blog.
Camille Holder is a creative-oriented content writer, storyteller, artist, and digital marketer. She’s a seasoned content writer for various businesses in the tech, gaming, entertainment, and health world. She finds contentment in giving her readers accurate and easy-to-read information, even if the subject is complex. Writing is one of her greatest passions aside from her other hobbies such as drawing, horse-riding, and taking care of animals.
Laura Goldstein, LCMFT is a licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist, Founder and Executive Director of Montgomery County Counseling Center, LLC, and founder of TheraCourses. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and then earnED her Master’s degree in Family Therapy. She became intensively trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) through Behavioral Tech Linehan Institute in 2015. Laura sees clients, provides consultations and trainings for other therapists, and does speaking engagements focused on preventative mental health!