Our parents took care of us when we were children, so we may feel obligated to care for our parents when they become older and unable to care for themselves. This is especially true considering that most elderly people want to avoid nursing homes and continue living life at their own home, if possible. While we may be happy to care for family members, it can be stressful.
According to Mayo Clinic, family members – non-healthcare professionals – provide 80% of long-term care in the United States. Most caregivers are women, and many of them are middle-aged with families of their own. On top of that, these women often have full-time careers. Consider the fact that they have to juggle work, family, and caregiving, and you can see why stress and burnout are common among caregivers.
It’s important to understand the signs of caregiver stress so you can avoid serious health problems. Read on to find out what to look for and how to remedy the situation so you have time to focus on yourself as well.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
Your health may be at risk if you constantly experience fatigue or sadness. If you notice changes in sleep patterns, lose interest in hobbies, see your weight fluctuating, or increase alcohol or tobacco use, then you may be suffering from caregiver stress. Constant worry, feeling overwhelmed, and frequent headaches and body pain are also common signs that your caregiving job may be causing you burnout.
Ways to Manage Stress
If stress has got you down, feeling empowered can help brighten your mood. Remember that you aren’t powerless. You can focus on things that can be controlled instead of stressing out about your loved one’s disease. You may not be able to cure your mother’s cancer, but you can celebrate the little things, like your ability to bring comfort and safety to your loved one.
Getting connected can help you with the emotional aspects of caregiving. There are many communities – online and in-person – that can connect you with other caregivers who can offer you support. Look for local caregiving services such as meal delivery and transportation. These offerings can reduce stress.
Be realistic. Don’t think you have to do everything. If things get too overwhelming, prioritize. Do only what needs to be done. If you are unable to get something done, learn to say no.
Ask for help – and accept it. If you have other family members, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. You shouldn’t be expected to take everything on yourself. Someone else can take your father to his doctor appointments, do the shopping, cook, or give baths. Make a list of everything that needs to be done and have others choose what they want to do.
Focus on your health. If you’ve been tired lately, start going to bed earlier. If your diet hasn’t been great the past few weeks, get back on track by eating healthier foods. Find time to exercise daily or at least several times a week. Meditation or yoga can be helpful for times when the stress is starting to build up. Make sure to see your doctor at least once a year for a checkup and any immunizations.
Besides eating well and sleeping, you need to take time out for yourself. You don’t have to do anything too extravagant. Simply reading, watching a movie, or engaging in a favorite hobby can take the stress of caregiving off your mind temporarily. Indulging in a warm bath can loosen stiff muscles while allowing you to relax. Make sure to spend time with friends. Grabbing a coffee or attending an event can lift your spirits. Watching a comedy show can be helpful, since laughter can melt away the stress.
In-home care is important to many seniors. If your parents wish to remain in their homes for as long as possible, do your part to grant their wishes. Understand that caring for your parents on your own can be challenging. If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a last resort, there are professional caregivers who can help.