Tips to Reduce Caregiver Stress Through Self-Care

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With a growing aging population, friends and family members are increasingly being called upon to act as caregivers for older adults.

Often, this role is thrust upon a person, either through circumstances or because they may feel that they are the only option for care.

While most of the time these relationships begin with a person feeling a great deal of compassion for another, the caregiver can become eventually overwhelmed. There are several ways to identify potential
caregiver burnout and methods to stop it from developing.

Often, this burnout manifests when caregivers neglect themselves. This neglect can be evident in many areas of self-care, such as not eating properly or avoiding activities that once made the caregiver happy.

Neglect can result from feelings of despair that can develop after a period of time tending to the needs of another. Burnout also can result in role confusion – where a caregiver’s former life as a spouse, sibling, child or friend disappears into the new identity of a provider to the ill or infirm person.

Another problem is stress that is self-imposed by the caregiver that comes from a feeling of impotence in curing an illness or solving a problem.

These often are unrealistic expectations, especially when dealing with terminally ill or Alzheimer’s patients.

These often are unrealistic expectations, especially when dealing with terminally ill or Alzheimer’s patients.

Burnout has three stages: frustration, isolation, and despair. These stages feed into one another when a caregiver begins feeling ineffective.

There are several signs of burnout. They can include:

  • Lack of energy. When every day feels exactly the same, with no light at the end of the tunnel, motivation is hard to muster.
  • Fatigue. Caregiving can be a 24/7 job, and no one can work those hours and maintain their health.
  • Sleeping problems. A burnt-out caregiver might not get enough sleep – or may sleep often as a way to escape from their misery.
  • Weight loss or gain. Stress and depression can rob our bodies of their health.
  • Isolation and avoiding social activities. When caregiving takes over your life, it is often hard to step away for recreation and fun.

An additional warning sign of burnout is substance abuse.

Overwhelmed caregivers may turn to drinking or drugs to soothe their despair. It’s important, though, to not self-medicate with addictive substances.

Addiction will derail effective caregiving and will not alleviate any of the stress of life. Be mindful of using alcohol, sleeping pills or pain relievers to manage your daily routine. If you experience any of the signs of alcoholism or drug addiction, see a professional immediately.

If you recognize symptoms of caregiver burnout in yourself or another, there are some methods to relieve the stress:

  • Stay physically active. Often, despair is amplified by lack of exercise and an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity benefits your health, and it also encourages interaction with others besides the ill person.
  • Join a support group. There are several groups that provide guidance and assistance to people in your shoes.
  • Include joyful activities in your day. Set aside time for hobbies and at least one moment of reflection on positive things in your life each day.

And although caregiver burnout can take time to develop, be on the lookout for signs of compassion fatigue. Unlike burnout, fatigue can happen very quickly and is often in response to a sudden feeling of being overwhelmed.

Burnout can affect any caregiver. It has less to do with personality and more to do with the nature of the care recipient’s needs and illnesses.

It’s important to try to treat caregiving as a function separate from your relationship with the recipient as much as possible. By carving out some time for yourself, you can help balance your life, which ultimately will make you a more effective caregiver.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Harry Cline is the creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers.
As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be.
He also understands that caregiving is often overwhelming for those just starting out. He created his website and is writing his new book to offer new caregivers everywhere help and support.
You can visit his website at Newcaregiver.org.

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About the author 

Dr Michael Chua PT, DPT

Dr Michael Chua is a physical therapist practising in Home Health, Skilled Nursing Facilities and Acute Care Hospital. His clinical interest involves pain management, geriatrics and dementia management. He enjoys treating patients and bringing out the best in them using positive treatment approaches, his dynamic work setting in a rural area provides an opportunity to treat a wide range from geriatrics to orthopaedics.

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