Family caregivers provide unpaid care for a family member or loved one who needs support as the result of an illness, a disability, or aging. Caregiving is rewarding, but over the long term, it often causes emotional and physical strain for the caregiver, referred to as caregiver stress. You’ve heard the popular metaphor of putting on your own airplane oxygen mask first, so you can then help others in need. This strategy applies here, too. Being aware of and attending to your own needs will, in the end, enable you to provide better care for others and will improve your quality of life. Counseling can help. Reach out to Santos Counseling PLLC today to start counseling.
Symptoms of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or anxious
- Moodiness (Easily angered or irritated) Persistent sadness
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities Feelings of loneliness or isolation
- Frequent headaches and/or muscle aches and pains Frequent exhaustion
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Rapid weight gain or weight loss Digestive problems
- Weakened immune system
- Substance use concerns (alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs)
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7 Ways To Reduce Caregiver Stress:
The first step is accepting your identity as a caregiver. Many family members don’t think of themselves as a caregiver because they do it out of love. But, owning your caregiver identity allows examination of the impact of this work and is empowering. You can be a proud member of the caregiver community.
2. Ask for and accept help.
You don’t have to do it alone. Come up with a list of possible helpers and ways they can help provide care for your loved one. Then you are ready when asked or when you are presented with the opportunity to enlist another person’s support. Practice saying “yes” to an offer to help!
3. Seek social support.
Focusing on caregiving might decrease or even eliminate the time you spend with friends or loved ones, causing you to feel isolated and alone. Make a commitment to connecting with friends and family who can offer you a moment away or provide non-judgmental emotional support. Who are the people in your life who lift your spirits or are willing to listen with compassion?
4. Calm anxiety.
When you are anxious or overwhelmed your heart rate increases and your breathing is shallow. By consciously taking 3 or 4 long, slow, deep breaths you are sending signals to your brain to calm. You might even come up with a mantra to repeat to yourself as you take deep breaths. For example, you might silently say, “I am doing the best I can.” or “This too shall pass.” or whatever phrase or verse speaks to you.
Practicing self-care allows a caregiver to be more balanced, focused, and effective and improves your overall quality of life. You can’t do it all, but small changes can make a noticeable difference in your wellness. Set small and achievable goals. You can aim to go to bed earlier, connect with a friend, eat healthy meals, meditate, engage in a hobby, or get exercise. Make a checklist for the day or week. Give yourself grace for not completing every item and give yourself credit for those you do!
6. Join a support group
You might feel that you are alone in your struggle as a caregiver, however, there are over 54,000,000 caregivers in the U.S. and that number is steadily increasing. The majority are unpaid and have paid employment outside their role as family caregivers. Therefore, there are many individuals experiencing a similar struggle to find balance. Individual caregivers can find validation and encouragement through meeting with people who understand what they are going through. Group members often share helpful strategies for coping and problem-solving.
7. Meet with a licensed mental health professional.
Talking with a counselor is a great way to commit to focusing on your own needs as a caregiver. A counselor can help address any mental health needs such as depression, anxiety, and grief and suggest additional strategies for coping with caregiver stress. A counselor provides you with an extra layer of emotional support and the encouragement you might need to set goals and create a plan to help you achieve increased wellness and improve your quality of life and caregiving experience. CLICK HERE to get started with a counselor.
National Family Caregivers Month – celebrated each November — is a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. #CaregiverAnd
Celebrating Family Caregivers during National Family Caregivers Month enables all of us to:
- Raise awareness of family caregiver issues
- Celebrate the efforts of family caregivers
- Educate family caregivers about self-identification
- Increase support for family caregivers
#CaregiverAnd encourages you, the family caregiver, to celebrate the identities and passions that enrich your life. Far too often your role as a family caregiver overshadows your identity and emphasizes the care you provide for your loved one.
- Nancy’s House: Caring for Caregivers
- AARP (1-888) 687-2277
- Family Caregiver Alliance (1-800) 445-8106
- Caregiver Action Network (202) 454-3970
- Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (229) 928-1234
“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need
caregivers.” – Rosalynn Carter
Understanding the role of caregivers:
The role of a caregiver extends beyond a person of support. It is truly a role that requires physical and emotional energy. We see caretakers as adult children who are caring for their elderly parents. At this point taking on a different role from the typical parent and child. They shift to feeling as if they are the parent to their own parent. Working with
Another common caretaker role is seen when caring for your partner. At some point, you saw your partner as someone able to move around the house, make their own meals, and compared to today show a different level of independence. Today, you feel the weight that comes with being a caretaker. It extends beyond the physical role of showing up and having to take on certain tasks. The role can impact mood and your overall emotional state. Working with a counselor is a great way to understand the dynamics connected to being a caretaker as well as receiving support.
7 Common challenges that caregivers go through:
1. Caregivers manage their energy.
Each one of us has a certain amount of energy that we have. Let’s imagine that you wake up and your energy meter is at 100%. You are full of energy. As you take on the day consider writing down all of the tasks that you do. The purpose of this is to identify how much energy you are expending. Once you have everything on paper, you will be able to visualize your day-to-day activities and energy expenditure. As a caretaker, consider how you are spending your energy. A supportive video focused on self-care can be found HERE. Improving energy and mood is a key area for caregivers including caregivers of cancer patients and caregivers of dementia patients.
- Are you taking time to take breaks?
- Are you engaging in self-care?
- Are you mindful of how much you are doing?
2. Managing time can be challenging for caregivers.
Time management is often challenging due to the demands that go into the role of being a caregiver. You may find yourself juggling your personal life and that of the person you are caretaking for. To support this area, take time to create structure. The structure can come in the form of developing separate planners or systems of organization that focus on the daily tasks that you have to do. In addition, to time management is the incorporation of boundaries. Being able to know when to say yes and when it is important to say no for your personal wellbeing. The focus on time management directly supports all caregivers including Alzheimer’s caregivers.
3. Caregivers experience emotional and physical stress.
If you are a caretaker, consider how you feel on a day-to-day basis. Take inventory of your mood and overall physical energy. Working with a counselor is a great way to actively engage in improving overall wellness. Improving mental health and physical health is a key area for caregivers including caregivers of cancer patients and caregivers of dementia patients. Watch the video, do I need therapy, if you are on the fence about counseling. You can do this by using a mood journal or by simply asking yourself the following question:
- How am I feeling today?
- What can I do to improve my mood?
- What negatively impacts my mood?
Strategies that can help caretakers with mental health include:
Strategies that can help caretakers improve their physical health include:
- Working with a personal trainer.
- Going on walks.
- Practicing yoga.
4. Caregivers often experience financial strain.
One of the most common stressors that impact caregivers comes from financial strain. Today, consider how the role of a caretaker impacts you financially. Being a caretaker can impact money due to the cost of driving, medication, losing work hours, and more. Money strain directly impacts a person’s mood and overall state of emotional wellbeing.
The financial strain that comes with caregiving may include the following:
- Fees for transportation.
- Fees for medication.
- Personal retirement.
- Losing money due to caretaking potentially being pro-bono.
- Job security.
5. Sleep problems commonly impact caregivers.
The role of a caretaker often requires long hours. You may find yourself having to stay up all night. Staying up late watching over the person you are supporting. This can over time impact a person’s emotional state and sleep pattern.
Most of us tend to not function well if we are not sleeping our needed hours. For some, it’s 8 hours each night. While for others a little bit more or less. Below are questions that can help with improving the area of sleep.
- How many hours do you need to sleep to feel ready for the day?
- How do you feel when you do not get the hours of sleep that you need?
- What can you do to sleep better?
6. Caregivers may experience a challenge with asking for help.
The role of a caregiver can feel very isolating. You may feel that you are the only person going through your experience and that no one will understand. In addition, you may experience a thought that pushes you away from asking for help because it would be a burden on others.
Let’s use the case study below to understand why caregivers may struggle with asking for help:
Sarah is a 28-year-old female attending her first counseling session. She sat down with the therapist who specializes in helping caretakers. Sarah shared that her mother had a stroke and now she is taking care of her. Sarah told the counselor that her mother had a major stroke leaving her paralyzed in certain ways. “She is not able to communicate verbally, drive, and requires support with having her meals prepared as well as hygiene support”. During the disclosure, Sarah cried and needed time to hold space with what she was feeling. She explained to the therapist that she is the only child and her father passed away while she was young. The counselor asked Sarah if she had support. Friends or family that are helping her. Sarah quickly answered “no”. She shared that she does have friends and family, but she doesn’t want to burden them. “I feel that I don’t even know what I’m doing. I wasn’t expecting this to happen. It doesn’t make sense. I’m 28. I didn’t see myself having to help or take care of my mom until later. Once I lived my life. I’m lost. My friends are in school. I was in school until this.”
In the case study above, you are able to reflect on Sarah. How she is a caretaker for her mother who recently had a stroke. You are able to pinpoint that Sarah took on the role of a caretaker at an early age and feels lost. You can also understand that Sarah feels It would be a burden to ask for help.
Consider your life and role as a caretaker.
- How are you doing with asking for help?
- Do you find it challenging to ask for help?
- What gives you strength in asking for help?
7. Building boundaries is important for caregivers.
When you think about boundaries consider looking at them as your home. Your home represents you. Having healthy boundaries means that you allow into your home what serves you and close the door to what harms you. Having healthy boundaries aligns to inner peace. When you reflect on your identity it can feel like a big concept or topic. Let’s break it down to make it easy to understand.
One key way to build and maintain boundaries includes focusing on the current boundaries that you have. Knowing your current boundaries gives you a feeling of empowerment, strength, and understanding to acknowledge the development of the boundary.
Explore the following:
- What boundaries do I have in place? (Think about boundaries you have with yourself, people, or settings. An example includes having the boundary of not taking work home. Or having the boundary of saying no.”
- Pick one boundary from the response shared above. Now consider the following. What do I do to carry out the boundary? (Consider the actions practiced that work to carry out the boundary).
- How did I create my boundary? (Consider if the boundary was learned in life).
- What actions hurt my ability to remain consistent with my boundaries?
To support developing boundaries try to work on acknowledging that a boundary is what you set for yourself and not for others. For instance, if you are wanting space from others because you feel that your space is being violated in some way.
You can share “I need to create a system in my life focused on giving myself more breaks.”
“You need to respect my boundary and stop bothering me.”
When you start with “I”, there is a direct focus on accountability. Setting boundaries requires that we hold ourselves responsible for creating them.
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Use the links below for more helpful reads aimed to support you in reducing stress and creating calmness in life.