02 Mar Caregiver Burden and Stress: Understanding It and 8 Tips to Overcome It
Caregivers provide a vital line of support to the loved ones and recipients of care that they dedicate time for. They take the primary responsibility for someone who cannot fully care for themselves, including those with mental or physical disabilities and a large portion of elders.
Their assistance is extremely important and valuable, and being recognized more and more in the face of an aging America. There are an estimated 43.5 million informal caregivers in the US today. Informal caregivers include anyone providing unpaid care to a friend or family member. The average age of informal caregivers is 49.2, and a majority (60 percent) are female. Overall, 85 percent of caregivers provide direct care for a relative.
What is caregiver burden?
Caregiver burden can be defined as the strain or load borne by a person who cares for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member. It is a response to physical, psychological, emotional, social, and financial stressors associated with the caregiving experience.
What are the causes of caregiver burden?
Causes of caregiver burden include financial stress, isolation, and physical and mental illnesses. Contributing to financial stress may include providing financial support to the care recipient and/or lost wages by forgoing shifts or hours worked to provide care. The vast majority of informal caregivers do not have any formal training, so caregiving presents an additional challenge.
In addition, isolation is a result of caregivers struggling to meet the needs of managing their own daily lives in addition to the burden carried by also providing care to a loved one. As a result, caregivers often lack the ability to take breaks and time for themselves to recharge which compounds the challenges that caregivers face. The emotional burden of providing direct care to a loved one and seeing their struggles also contributes to mental and emotional concerns for the caregiver.
What are the effects of caregiver burden?
A wide range of caregiving effects can result from caregiver burden. These include the disruption of family routines, psychological distress, and psychological and physical concerns including financial hardship, stress, and work-related problems. Amazingly, studies have even found an increased risk of death for caregivers, particularly those providing care to a spouse.
As a large and fast-growing portion of the population, it is important that caregivers cope and manage the stress and burden of caregiving for loved ones. The following are 8 ways that caregivers can cope with the stress burden of providing caregiver support.
1. Education: As mentioned, the vast majority of informal caregivers have no formal training. Overcome this by getting educated about the conditions you may be dealing with to more effectively use your time and resources. Consider caregiver support groups, both in person and through facebook groups. They can help caregivers manage stress in all kinds of ways, and fellow caregivers and more than willing to share best practices when it comes to providing care. Take the time to do your research on ways to better provide care. You may even want to consider the benefits of taking courses or other caregiver training. By investing the time now, you can not only provide better care to your loved one but are also much more likely to mitigate associated stress and risk factors for yourself.
2. Acknowledgement: To resolve a problem you must be willing to acknowledge that a problem exists or may occur. It can be uncomfortable to admit that you may not be able to always meet the challenge of caregiving. That doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or can’t handle it though. No role is completely care or stress free, and by accepting one’s own limitations, you can begin to seek out ways to manage the burden better. By accepting one’s shortcomings, you may face personal shame or resulting guilt. However, denial or failure to acknowledge these issues will lead to a worsening cycle of stress, anxiety, and difficulty managing relationships and one’s own needs. Plus, by accepting that you are facing personal difficulties, you can open yourself up to getting the help you need.
3. Find emotional support: Even if you are the only one able to provide care to your loved one, you still can’t do this on your own. Caregiving can be lonely at times and even thankless. By relying on a little emotional support, you can keep your sanity and health in check if you know where to look. Many caregivers are hesitant to share their stress and personal struggles with their loved ones, but you shouldn’t be. Lean on friends and family for a little comfort and empathy in dealing with whatever challenges you may be facing. Also, consider caregiver support groups. As mentioned, this can include anything from face-to-face meetings to Facebook chats or website discussion threads. Finally, don’t forget about considering professional support in the form of a therapist or counselor.
4. Quality Time: Take the time for yourself to relax, recharge, and just focus on you. This also means making sure you prioritize your own health and responsibilities. Among other things:
- Make and keep doctor and dentist appointments for yourself
- Eat well and exercise to keep your immune system up and healthy while combating stress
- Take care of your mental health with meditation, relaxing, or use of professional services
- Be social: Stay connected with the people, places, and activities that are important to you. Go out and have fun. Don’t feel guilty about letting loose every once in a while either. Taking time for yourself isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
5. Get more sleep: Is more sleep the answer to all of our problems? No, but it sure does help, and it bears repeating again. Set aside 7 or 8 hours dedicated for sleep. Do what you can to make sure you can get it. Cut out TV and your phone an hour before bed, while making your sleep space distraction free and as inviting as possible to achieving sleep goals. When it comes down to it, sleep is almost always the first thing to go because it’s the easiest to cut. However, a lack of it can reap an immense toll on almost all aspects of your life. The moral of the story is that by adding in a regular sleep routine, you won’t just be able to better cope with the effects of caregiving, but you’ll also improve your general overall health.
Finally, it’s quite possible that the entire reason you aren’t getting a full night’s rest is because you are providing care in the middle of the night. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about strategies to help them get a full night’s rest too. For example, maybe your loved one has to get up at night to use the bathroom or is at risk for sleepwalking. These could be side effects of certain medications. When safe, you may consider limiting their water intake before bedtime as well. Also, perhaps home modifications can make the environment safe enough for your loved one to go to the bathroom on their own without assistance (such as grab bars, raised toilet seats, emergency alert systems). Not only could these make it easier for you to get a full night’s rest but it can make caregiving easier for you the rest of the day as well.
6. Focus on the positive: Acknowledge and take stock of all the work you are doing. When you actually take a moment to really consider all the things you are doing for another human being, it can truly be awe-inspiring. You provide quality of life, keep them safe, and help them live with dignity and independently, among many other things. Caregiving can come without much recognition, so be sure to reward yourself in small and pleasurable ways. It may be nothing more than an occasional bath or night out for yourself. If you know others providing needed care to a loved one, be sure to take the time to acknowledge the work that they are doing as well. You may be the only one to do so and it could mean the world to the caregiver hearing it.
7. Get organized: Caregiver stress is often a combination of all the challenges that one is juggling in their lives. From tracking appointments, medications, and care for your loved ones on top of your own daily responsibilities, it can quickly be overwhelming. However, it could be alleviated with the right organizational system to stay on top of everything you are doing. Work on creating a system for keeping track of all the tasks and schedules that you manage. This can help alleviate the burden of caregiving and give you back some control over your life and the life of your loved one.
8. Take advantage of respite services: Caregiving hours are often long and so you need any breaks you can get. At a minimum, be sure to arrange at least a half day off a week plus other periodic breaks from your duties to vacation, relax , or recharge. You can achieve this by making full use of a respite service that you are able to allot or that you can afford. Some ways to achieve this are through the services of a home care company such as Chosen Family that can provide care and support in your absence. Consider enrolling your loved one in an adult day care service as well, which can be done in flexible shifts. Think that nursing home facilities are only for full time residents? Think again. Many often flexible stay options so your loved one can stay in a facility for several days and nights on occasion so you can consider longer term getaways.
To conclude, reducing the burden and stress of caregiving is possible. As with any important responsibility, you will never eliminate all of the challenges that come along with them. However, you can take steps that can make things a little easier on you while still achieving the challenge of making your life better for a loved one in need as well.