A recent Pew Research survey showed that one in four adults in the United States provides some form of care for an elderly relative or a child with health challenges or disabilities. Caring for a loved one can be rewarding. But the daily strain of arranging, overseeing and sometimes directly providing care can take its toll on the caregiver.
This is a common experience that even has a name — caregiver stress. Some of the signs are feeling overwhelmed or alone; sleeping too much or too little; gaining or losing a significant amount of weight; easily becoming angry or irritated; and frequently feeling tired, worried or sad.
Over time, the stress of constant caregiving can lead to depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system and other negative health effects.
The first step in addressing stress before it becomes a threat to your health is self-care. We can’t provide quality care to others if we aren’t taking good care of ourselves.
Go easy on yourself. You may need to rethink your idea of what you can reasonably accomplish. This could mean setting more realistic expectations of what you can do and letting go of some things. It also means asking for help from other family members.
Practice compassion. When you find yourself overwhelmed by demands of caregiving and wrestling with feelings of frustration, helplessness, resentment or guilt, you may be inclined to berate yourself for not being stronger or more patient. Compassion for yourself is what is needed.
What you have undertaken is difficult, no matter how necessary or rewarding.
Helpful tips to prevent caregiver stress
The Office on Women’s Health of the Department of Health and Human Services has these recommendations to help prevent or manage caregiver stress:
- Learn ways to better help your loved one. Look for classes at your local hospital or ask your doctor for suggestions.
- Find caregiving resources in your community. Adult daycare and respite services give caregivers a break from their duties.
- Ask for and accept help. Make a list of specific tasks friends and other family members can take on, such as running errands or grocery shopping for you.
- Join a support group for caregivers with similar circumstances to share stories, exchange tips and offer support for the challenges you face.
- Stay organized with a to-do list and a daily routine.
- Make time in your day to do things you enjoy.
- Take care of your health. Get regular exercise, choose healthy foods and get enough sleep.
- See your doctor for regular checkups. Let your doctor or nurse know you are a caregiver and describe any symptoms of depression or sickness you may have.
Visit www.womenshealth.gov for more information on caregiving and your health.