How to Cope with the Emotional Stress of Caregiving

Mar 22, 2016

How to Cope with the Emotional Stress of Caregiving

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The textbook definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” But stress is not always black and white. Stress comes in all shapes and sizes and it affects people of every age, race, and gender.

Emotional Effects of Caregiving 

Stress can bring on an abundance of symptoms. Here are some of the more common and obvious symptoms of being stressed out:

  • Inability to sleep, despite being tired
  • Headaches
  • Low energy
  • Hair loss
  • Upset Stomach (Nausea, Diarrhea, etc.)
  • Change in eating habits (binge eating, not eating enough, etc.)
  • Body aches
  • Substance abuse

Symptoms of stress vary in severity and it’s important to remember that stress affects every individual in a different way. Certain careers and responsibilities also add to the way stress effects an individual. For example, according to Career Cast, a hair stylist and a jeweler have low-stress careers, while a paramedic and a firefighter have high-stress careers. One career not that is not listed as a high-stress job, but many would argue it is, is caregiving.

Home caregivers are usually responsible for a loved one’s health and well-being, and they are typically with this person 24/7. Focusing on someone aside from yourself every hour of the day can get pretty stressful. Far too often caregivers find themselves suffering from caregiver burnout, because they are under so much pressure.

Coping with the Caregiver Stress 

When an individual is under a significant amount of stress, it begins to really take a toll on them. Although, there are plenty of ways that caregivers can avoid, or at least lessen, their stress.

  1. Exercise. All too often people relate exercising to solely physical health, but a 30-minute walk or run is one of the best stress relievers. Exercise causes your body to produce endorphins, which help keep the mind happy and healthy. Exercising, especially in the morning, provides the body with a lot of energy and makes it easier to achieve a good night’s sleep. Tip: Avoid exercising close to bedtime. Exercising wakes your body up, and it will be a lot more difficult to fall asleep.
  2. Develop healthy eating habits. Eating unhealthy food depreciates a body’s energy, and certain foods can actually aggravate stress. To avoid stress, things like sugar and caffeine should be limited. Aside from what to eat, it’s important that a caregiver is eating in general. Stress can cause odd eating habits, so plan meals ahead of time to help avoid skipping meals or binge eating. Tip: Designate a time early in the day to stop drinking caffeine – this will help promote sleep when it’s time for bed.
  3. Meditate or Pray. Whether or not a caregiver is religious, it is important to have time every day for self-reflection and unwinding. This allows a caregiver to calm down after an upsetting situation, or simply sit and think about what the day has in store. Tip: If a caregiver finds it difficult to find the time for this, wake up 15 minutes earlier – the morning is the perfect time for meditation or prayer.
  4. Get enough sleep. Being well-rested will make it so much easier for a caregiver to go about their busy lives with the energy they need. Caregivers should make sure they are getting at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night. It’s also important to remember that over-sleeping can cause just as many issues as not getting enough sleep. Tip: Designate a bedtime every night and stick to it. A regular sleep schedule goes a long way.
  5. Designate ‘me time’. While a caregiver’s responsibility is to take care of another individual, it’s important that they remember that they are the first priority. A caregiver should maintain relationships with friends and family outside of their own household. For example, a caregiver could take one night off a week to go to dinner with a friend. No matter what a caregiver chooses to do with their ‘me time’, it’s important that they have it. Tip: These things should be scheduled in advance to ensure that a caregiver isn’t overloaded and has time off

While stress is inevitable at times, especially in careers such as caregiving, there are plenty of ways to cope with and lessen stress. The less stress, the more an individual can enjoy their rewarding job as a loved one’s caregiver.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My mother has Alzheimer's disease, and lately she's been wandering out of the house. What can I do to stop her wandering?

Wandering can bring forth loads of anxiety in any caregiver, but thankfully, there are many things you can do to put a stop to the wandering, or at least decrease it. The first thing you should do is secure your house. Replace locks and doorknobs with ones that are more difficult to open. Put up an alarm system so that if the door were to open, you will be alerted immediately.

At times it’s difficult to prevent this completely, especially with some very persistent individuals. But, there are things you can do to keep the situation from becoming hazardous even if an individual wanders. For example, always make sure the individual has some sort of identification on them. You could also put up a fence as long as it’s a reasonable option.

If you find that the issue of wandering is out of your hands and may result in your loved one getting hurt, it may be time to consider other options. This may include hiring outside help in the form of an in-home health aid or moving your senior to a senior living community that specializes in memory care.

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I take care of my father at home, he was diagnosed with Dementia, but it seems to be worsening, what should I do?

Seek the help of a physician. If Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia, is caught in the early stages, there is a lot of preventative care and treatments that physicians may offer your father to maintain, and even increase, quality of life. Make notes of any of the common Alzheimer's signs or symptoms your father might show.

If you find that taking care of your father is becoming too burdensome on you, consider having other family members help or hire outside help. There are in-home health aides, as well as adult day care centers that have staff specially trained for seniors with Dementia or Alzheimer's.

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