As our population continues to age, many older adults are relying on formal and informal caregivers to support them throughout the aging process. Informal caregivers are often spouses, adult children or family friends, while formal caregivers are hired through private-duty care companies. According to the Mayo Clinic, informal caregiving is becoming increasingly popular. In fact, about 1 in 3 U.S. adults is caring for an aging parent or relative. While caregiving is rewarding in many ways, it can also be physically and emotionally demanding.
Caregiver stress is very common and can often present itself through feelings of isolation, exhaustion and loneliness. A survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that 40% of caregivers felt emotionally stressed, 20% said it caused financial problems and 20% felt physically strained. While stress from caregiving can look different for each individual, there are some signs that are commonly reported. Fortunately, there are also a variety of ways to work through this stress and get back to feeling the rewards of caregiving.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
It’s easy for family caregivers to be so focused on their loved ones that they ignore their own health. Some caregivers may not even realize their physical and emotional well-being are suffering. According to the Mayo Clinic, these signs of caregiver burnout are common and important to identify:
- Feeling overwhelmed or more worried than usual
- Feeling tired and fatigued
- Sleeping too much or not enough
- Gaining or losing weight without trying
- Becoming easily agitated, frustrated or angry
- Losing interest in hobbies or other once-enjoyable activities
- Feeling sad and uninterested
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medication
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these warning signs, it’s important to address them quickly. Stress that goes unaddressed for too long can have negative long-term effects on one’s health. Long-term stress can often lead to depression or anxiety, and increase the risk of other medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
Self-Care Tools for Caregivers
It’s very common for caregivers to experience some type of stress while caring for their loved one. In fact, The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that roughly 38% of family caregivers find their situation highly stressful, while 25% experience moderate stress. Because of this, the Family Caregiver Alliance has compiled a tool sheet with caregiver self-care tips to help understand and prevent caregiver burnout. If you or a loved one is experiencing caregiver stress, you may consider implementing some of these helpful tools:
- Reduce personal stress. The best way to manage stress is to understand and recognize the warning signs. Are you feeling more fatigued than usual? Are you coping with stress in negative ways? If so, begin to think about your sources of stress and identify what you can and can’t change. Focus your energy on what you can change and use other coping mechanisms to help you accept what you can’t control. Stress-reducing activities can be simple, such as going for a walk, meditating, gardening, or reading a book.
- Set personal goals. Setting short- and long-term goals can give you a sense of accomplishment that may ultimately improve your mood and self-confidence. Think about what you’d like to accomplish in three to six months and make a plan to set your goals. Exercising more, improving your quality of sleep, and connecting with others more often are all great examples of personal goals. Once you’ve set your goal, spend some time thinking about how you’ll achieve it by breaking it down into smaller steps.
- Ask for and accept help. Many caregivers are hesitant to accept help from others when it comes to caring for their aging parents. While you may not wish to “burden” others with the task of caregiving or admit that you need help, accepting the goodwill of others can help reduce stress dramatically. Be prepared with a list of ways that others could help, including meal preparation, attending an appointment with your loved one, grocery shopping, helping you with paperwork, or even just tidying up around the house.
- Utilize respite care. It’s probably very difficult to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care. However, taking an extended break can help you rest, reset, and even make you a better caregiver. There are different types of respite care available, including in-home respite, adult care centers, and short-term nursing homes. In-home respite involves health care aides coming to your home to provide care, while adult care centers and short-term nursing involve bringing your loved one to a care center or senior community while you’re away.
Caring for Yourself
Finding simple ways to care for yourself throughout the day doesn’t have to be difficult. Consider starting with self-compassion. This means celebrating small successes, stepping away from self-criticizing, and allowing yourself time throughout the day to take care of yourself. Another small way to implement relaxation throughout the day is to spend 10 minutes practicing breathing techniques. Breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth for 10 minutes can help reduce stress and lower your heart rate.
You might also consider prioritizing your own health first. Nutrition is an important factor in overall wellness. Eating a balanced diet, reducing or eliminating alcohol and tobacco consumption, and focusing on quality sleep can lead to big physical and mental improvements.
Questions to Consider Before Becoming a Caregiver
Caring for elderly parents isn’t something to be taken lightly. While undoubtedly rewarding, caregiving can present a huge strain on your life and your family’s life. Before making the final decision, it’s important to go through these questions: Do I know how to care for aging parents?
- Am I physically able to provide the needed assistance? Could I continue doing this work for weeks? Months? Years? Do I have physical limitations for the work involved?
- Am I prepared to perform intimate caregiving chores like bathing and helping with toileting?
- Am I able to keep from getting upset and angry? Am I able to stay calm and treat family members with patience and kindness even when I feel tired and overworked with the responsibilities of being a caregiver?
- Can I free my schedule to be available when needed?
- Can I afford to reduce or stop working? Do I need to continue to work to meet my family’s and my current or future financial needs?
- Am I willing to reduce or neglect other obligations in order to give the care needed?
If there are other people who depend on me (children, etc.), can I find alternative care for them to free up my time to take care of my loved one?
- Am I confident that other family relationships (e.g., with spouse) won’t be negatively affected by the stress of caregiving?
- Do I have a list of contacts to ask for help when I need a break? Am I willing to ask for help if I need it?
- How will I protect myself from getting so involved that I never take a break or get help?
- Would I be willing to pay someone to help me provide the care that’s needed? Do I have the financial resources to purchase supplemental care?
- Do the people around me support me in my decision? Are they willing to share in some of the responsibilities?
Reducing Caregiver Stress at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we understand that not all situations are conducive to caring for a loved one at home. Our knowledgeable and caring staff are happy to provide guidance to family members and caregivers looking for additional support. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, contact us today.