Filling a caregiver role for a loved one can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Many people feel that being there for others is one of the most valuable personality traits they possess. They support people in their times of need.
Taking care of others can also increase your risk of caregiver stress syndrome. Knowing how to recognize and alleviate it can help you stay strong and feel capable.
What Is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Caregiver stress syndrome occurs when people in support roles report higher instances of physical, mental and emotional symptoms directly stemming from the help provided. Some sources also refer to it as caregiver burnout or caregiver stress.
It is a multifaceted issue because people bear the stress of their caregiving duties while watching a loved one’s health deteriorate. Some people in this role roles also experience a related problem called caregiver martyr syndrome. They feel that no one else can provide the proper care to someone. Such a mindset happens frequently but can lead to exhaustion.
What Are the Signs of Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
The excessive stress felt by caregivers manifests in a variety of ways. They include:
- Feelings of overwhelm or constant worry
- Weight loss or gain
- Not setting aside time for yourself
- Physical problems like headaches, stomach upset and muscle soreness
- Losing interest in activities you loved
- Neglecting responsibilities unrelated to caregiving
- Having trouble concentrating
- Engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive eating, drinking or smoking
If some of these symptoms sound familiar, don’t feel guilty or berate yourself over perceived weaknesses. Caregiver stress is common, and it can become especially likely in certain circumstances. For example, statistics indicate that caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease are twice as likely to report significant emotional, physical and financial difficulties compared to those caring for people with other ailments.
There is also an increase in sandwich-generation caregivers, where carers assume responsibility for people of multiple ages. You may handle the needs of both your mother and toddler son or your father and grandmother, for example.
Anyone can experience the effects of caregiver stress. Statistics show, however, that women are more likely than men to report associated stress and physical health problems.
Managing the Challenges of Giving Ongoing Support
People experiencing tremendous pressure from their caregiver roles have numerous ways to feel better. One of them involves staying aware of risks and engaging in recommended strategies to combat them. For example, health experts advise hand-washing for at least 20 seconds and keeping the house clean as two ways to avoid COVID-19. Follow guidance from health officials as thoroughly as possible while recognizing you can’t eliminate the threat.
Explore ways to regularly enjoy time away from caregiving, even if only for an hour or two. For example, could a neighbor come and chat with your terminally ill father while you take a short walk on a riverside trail near your home? Would you consider hiring a home health nurse to assist one day a week so that you have a dedicated time to unwind?
Creating a support system is also a valuable way to minimize caregiver stress. An online forum could help you vent frustrations and get advice from people in similar situations. You might also consider seeing a psychologist or connecting with a local hospital to see if it offers caregiver resources.
Setting boundaries for the time spent caregiving is also essential. People who devote their time to others often experience a gradual increase in responsibilities. A related issue is that they rarely calculate how many hours per day or week they can give without sacrificing other needs — whereas many would if their boss asked them to work overtime. There is no shame in admitting that the load you bear is too great, and it’s time to split the duties with someone else.
Mindfulness may also prove a worthwhile activity for those experiencing strain due to assisting others. Participants in one study engaged in eight weeks of online mindfulness training through biweekly sessions. Caregivers reported significant differences in anxiety, loneliness and other psychological symptoms after receiving the specialized education.
Handle Caregiver Stress Syndrome One Day at a Time
Taking proactive steps to ease the stress you feel while caring for others will cause meaningful improvements. Getting beneficial results requires self-reflection and willingness to know you need assistace. Understand that any care plan should stay flexible. Just as those who receive your help have various needs over time, you will too.
Tune in to your feelings and which activities have the most adverse consequences. Then, make adjustments for the best results. Taking that methodical approach will allow you to stay maximally resilient, causing personal benefits, plus positive effects to those you encounter in life.