Feeling stress when acting as your loved one’s primary caregiver doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or doing something wrong. In fact, it is so common that it has even been given a name… Caregiver Stress Syndrome. The majority of caregivers admit to feeling some level of stress around taking care of their loved ones, so you are not alone. Learning ways to cope with that stress can be truly life changing, and help you be an even better support system for your own loved one.
Signs of an Elevated Stress Level
Before learning how to cope with caregiver stress, it’s important to be able to identify what the signs are. Recognizing the signs early means that you can put coping strategies into place to help you reduce your stress level before it can have a major impact on your health and ability to give care. Here are just a few:
- Feeling extra tired and worn down
- Sleep problems (either sleeping too much or too little)
- Frequent headaches or illness
- Excessive crying
- Being easily irritated or overwhelmed
- Weight gain or loss
- Loss of interest in activities
Over time, stress can break you down both physically and emotionally. Dealing with it head on by creating effective coping strategies is a gamechanger.
Connect With Other Caregivers
One of the best ways that you can cope with stress is by connecting with other people in the same situation. Many areas host caregiver support meetings, which will allow you to sit and talk with people dealing with the same stressors. Being able to vent in a safe place to people who will understand and not judge you is incredibly empowering. There is no reason that you need to carry the emotional burden of caregiving on your own.
In addition, going to a caregiver support meeting, or just meeting a friend who is also a caregiver for coffee or lunch, can give you a much needed break from your responsibilities to focus on yourself.
If there isn’t a caregiver support group locally, the National Alliance for Caregiving also maintains a helpful and frequently updated database of resources that don’t require you to be in-person.
Being a caregiver doesn’t have to be a solo sport. Remembering that, and accepting help when offered, is a major way you can work to reduce your stress level.
A good place to start is by creating a list of things that other people can help with and that you’re willing to relinquish control of. At first, this list may feel like a betrayal and be hard to make. That’s part of the process! Start small, like having someone else do the laundry or cook a meal. You’ll be surprised by how much taking just a few tasks off your list can relax you.
In some cases, help may come in the form of a therapist. Many caregivers seek out therapy services to better cope with the stress level that comes with the job, whether it’s full-time or part-time. They can work with you to develop healthy coping skills, and are a safe, non-judgemental place to vent.
Take Time Out For Yourself
Last but not least is self care. While self care is important for everyone, caregivers need it more than most. There is a lot of truth to the old adage that you should put your own oxygen mask on before you help anyone else with theirs. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be capable of taking care of your loved one.
Self care looks different for everyone. For some people, going on a run helps them improve their outlook. For others, it’s simply reading a book on their front porch for an hour. No matter what it looks like for you, identify things that you can do to take better care of yourself and make a promise to yourself to do those things at least a few times a week. It can feel hard to set that time aside for yourself, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you a good caregiver.
Being a caregiver is hard work, both physically and emotionally, and caregiver burnout is a real concern. Identifying the signs that your stress level may be getting dangerously high, and having a plan to help manage your stress better can literally be lifesaving. Ultimately, taking care of yourself makes you a more efficient, compassionate caregiver for your loved ones. Everybody wins! Go slow, don’t judge yourself, and understand it is a process. You’re taking the first step today by just reading this article.