When the Caregiver Cracks: Tips on Managing Stress

Mar 22, 2016

When the Caregiver Cracks: Tips on Managing Stress

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The bills are past due, the dishes are stacked in the sink, and mom has gotten into yet another face-palming squabble with her nurse that needs intervening. Being a caregiver is a full-time job on top of your literal full-time job, personal life, other family members you may be taking care of and all the other issues in between. All of these stressors can drive even the coolest cucumber into more of a prickly pickle.

Stress can have more than an emotional impact, but physically can make someone feel unbearably sick. It can cause debilitating headaches, difficulty sleeping, an upset stomach, fatigue, muscle tension, and even effect the sex drive, according to Mayo Clinic. It also can completely alter the way someone feels. Senior caregivers suffer from anxiety, depression, anger, and a hard time finding motivation during times of stress.

Allowing stress to consume the mind and body can cause some dangerous behavior as a reaction as well. Whether it be unhealthy eating,verbal outbursts, drinking, smoking, or not getting adequate exercise; a person can transform under the demands of looking after their senior.

Caregiver Stress Management

When stress happens, it hits like a ton of bricks. But, sometimes the reason why isn’t always clear. Many just let the situation take control of their lives, instead of taking the wheel and steering themselves into a better state-of-mind. Most don’t seem to think about the source of their anguish. Before life turns into a downward spiral, work through the parts of life that are waiting to destroy from the inside out.

How to Cope with Caregiver Stress

There is no one-size fits all when it comes to finding the right way to handle stress. Some people find that rescuing a dog and taking it for walks helps them feel better while others might prefer to recover their stress by spending more time around friends.


Some will choose to do anything before lacing up their running shoes or hiring a trainer. Yet, others find exercise to be a wonderful way to relieve stress. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America says that in times of exercise the endorphins—or chemicals in the brain that naturally relieve pain—are able to help you sleep better. And in turn, this reduces stress. 14% of people use exercise to cope with stress. Here are a few ways you can use exercise a stress reliver for your caregiver duties:

  • Taking the dog for a walk
  • Joining a yoga class
  • Parking further away
  • Choose the stairs instead
  • Dancing to music while doing chores

Talk it Out

18% of people say talking with friends and family is their choice method for reducing caregiver-related stress. Alternatively, some people find that seeking professional help is best for them. Here are some ways you can talk about your feelings as a caregiver:

  • Setting up a weekly friend dinner
  • Join coworkers for coffee or a drink after work
  • Seek support groups from others with similar problems
  • Consider hiring a therapist

Reward Yourself

Making time for the hobbies and enjoyment may seem like the last thing one has the time or energy for, but, it can do a lot toward fixing the feelings of overwhelming doom. Try:

  • Engaging in new hobbies
  • Buy concert tickets
  • Plan a weekend getaway
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Go on a spa day
  • Splurge on a luxury item
  • Watch a funny movie

Keep Your Body Happy

A healthy person is a happy person, right? Exercise isn’t the only way to make us best version of ourselves.Try:

  • Cutting out certain bad foods from a diet
  • Eating less sugar or caffeine (especially at night)
  • Self-medicate
  • Get adequate sleep

How NOT to Cope with Caregiver Stress

Letting stress consume one’s life can make just about anyone wish they could go back to bed, even if they just got out of it. Don’t let the stress of looking after a senior result in unhealthy habits that can end up being more damaging in the long run. Here are a few ways not to cope with caregiver stress:

  • Binge drinking
  • Smoking
  • Becoming a couch potato
  • Oversleeping
  • Taking it out on others
  • Over-cramming your schedule to forget about it
  • Procrastinating

Exerting energy taking care of an elderly or sick loved one can be exhausting both physically and mentally. But, it doesn’t have to overshadow all of life. And, it doesn’t have to last forever. Love yourself enough to reframe the situation and reform it.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My sister has been the primary caregiver for our father for the past year and has recently become apathetic. What can I do?

Apathy in one common sign of compassion fatigue and is common among those who work in the caregiving industry. While it is different than burnout, many of the signs and symptoms are similar. If you are able, try to alleviate some of your sister’s responsibilities by filling in and allowing her to practice some self-care as well. Also, do not be afraid to point her in the direction of a caregiver support group. There are many great resources available to help with compassion fatigue.

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My father has lived in the same house for over 50 years, so he's reluctant to leave. How do I talk to him about moving to a senior care community?

When people grow attached to a familiar setting, moving to a senior care community can be a difficult subject, especially when caregiving is involved. To avoid excessive stress for you and your loved one, there are ways to bring up "the move" to elderly parents. Remember to remain honest and address any concerns your father may have. Prepare yourself for resistance. 

Have you checked out our Is It Time to Seek Senior Care Checklist? This resources will help you decide if it really is the right time for your senior to move out. This may be something that you want to bring to a meeting with your senior to show them some reasons why it may not be safe for them to live independently anymore.

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