Managing Stress for Family Caregivers

July 31, 2023

Being a family caregiver is a noble and rewarding role, but it can also be incredibly challenging and emotionally taxing. As we dedicate ourselves to caring for our loved ones, we often overlook the impact it has on our own well-being.

While caregivers experience many positive emotions related to the role, the AARP reports more than 35% are highly stressed, and an alarming 23% find it difficult to care for their own health. Without proper coping strategies, the pressures and responsibilities of caregiving can lead to burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion with serious health consequences. In fact, 23% of caregivers report that caregiving has worsened their own health, according to the AARP.

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Family Caregiving

Family caregivers experience a wide range of emotions throughout their journey. While the sense of purpose and fulfillment is undeniable, it’s essential to acknowledge the emotional toll caregiving can take. Feelings of pressure, guilt, and exhaustion are not uncommon among caregivers. Recognizing and addressing these emotions, before they develop into burnout and start impacting your health, are crucial to being an effective family caregiver.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Significant stress over long periods can eventually lead to a collection of physical and mental symptoms commonly known as burnout. Signs you may be suffering from caregiver burnout include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, and/or easily irritated
  • Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or like you’re losing control of your life
  • Lack of motivation
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more often
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion

How To Deal with Caregiver Burnout

Almost every caregiver experiences burnout at some point but leaving it unaddressed may negatively impact your ability to care for your loved one. Don’t let guilt prevent you from taking a much-needed break; proactive self-care is essential to caregiving. To help you cope with caregiver stress, try these tips.

Prioritize Self-Care: Give yourself permission to take care of your physical and emotional needs. Ensure you get enough rest, eat balanced meals, exercise regularly, and make time for activities that bring you joy. If you are having trouble disconnecting from caregiving even while relaxing, consider seeing a therapist for additional strategies for minimizing burnout.

Get support from your social network: Reach out to family members and friends for assistance and emotional support. They may be eager to help with some tasks, freeing up time for you to decompress. Additionally, talking to someone who understands your situation can be very therapeutic.

Try a different approach: To make caregiving feel more manageable, break large tasks into smaller steps to tackle one at a time. Establish a routine to create a sense of predictability and control. It sounds small, but having an organized plan can help you feel less stressed and overwhelmed.

Change your frame of mind: The stress of caregiving can affect your mental health just as much as your physical health, if not more. To reduce anxiety and improve mental resilience, acknowledge your limits and delegate tasks to others when possible. If you think a task will be too draining or time-consuming, saying no is okay. Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques into your daily routine – even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day.

Make plans for respite care: Regularly using respite care services is vital for reducing your stress levels and preventing caregiver burnout. Respite care refers to temporary care and support provided to your loved one by a professional caregiver, allowing you as the primary caregiver to take a much-needed break. It can be an invaluable resource that gives you time to recharge and attend to your own needs – ensuring you can provide better care when you return.

Respite care is not always covered by insurance. However, services may be available in your community for low or no cost. For example, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) provides access to caregiver training, support groups, adult day care, and a wealth of other caregiving resources for enrolled participants and their families.

Finally, for more caregiving strategies and support, we recommend visiting the following organizations:

As a family caregiver, it’s essential to recognize the impact of caregiver burnout and take proactive steps to care for yourself. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help and prioritize your health. By practicing self-care, you can then provide the best care for your loved ones.


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