According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. If you have a family member or close friend with a disability, chronic illness, or terminal diagnosis, chances are you are among these millions of individuals providing care and companionship. Unfortunately, caregiving can begin to feel like a thankless chore or a full-time commitment quickly, which is why caregiver stress is such a prevalent problem.
Know the Signs of Stress
If you are responsible for caring for a family member or loved one, there are many emotions that may arise. You might feel hopeless or trapped, since you may have to dedicate hours of attention and energy to caring for someone else. You might also begin to feel resentment toward the individual you care for or other family members who may not contribute as much time in caregiving tasks or financial support. Developing these feelings is a normal result of caregiver stress, but you should not consider it normal to live with these negative emotions. If you are experiencing any of the following signs of stress, reach out for help:
- Sleeplessness and exhaustion
- Mood swings and irritability
- Unaddressed physical health issues
- Difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawal from social situations
- Persistent feelings of anger and guilt
Attend a Support Group
It can be difficult knowing where to turn to address caregiver stress. After all, a common trademark of an overworked caregiver is the feeling of being isolated and alone. However, caregiver support groups are common, and they can give you a space to open up about your stress and start exploring solutions. Even just hearing that you aren’t alone can be helpful. You might look for general caregiver support in your community or look for meetups for family members and loved ones of patients with a specific condition, such as Alzheimer’s.
Use Relaxation Exercises
With the right techniques, you can relieve stress as it occurs, keeping a more positive attitude overall. You might use breathing techniques to re-center and slow down in the midst of a busy day, or you can use mindfulness meditation daily to let go of stressful thoughts and create a sense of calm—this is a great activity to use before bedtime.
Seek Financial Counseling
To truly combat stress, it’s helpful to target the source. For many caregivers, financial strain is a huge contributor to stress. Medical bills, daily living expenses, and care services can have finances limited, but this situation may be more manageable with some financial counseling. Talk to your bank about any budget counseling services they offer. You might also consider seeing a hospital social worker to learn about ways to manage your loved one’s medical expenses.
Seek Personal Counseling
Caregiving stress may be about more than the stress you face daily. There may be complicating factors wrapped up in your personal relationship with the person you care for. You may also suffer from depression or anxiety related to your stress, so you should not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.
Prioritize Time for Yourself
This may be the hardest thing for you to do as a caregiver, and it may even feel impractical if you are the primary caregiver for a loved one. However, it is the most essential step to managing stress and keeping yourself healthy. Visit your doctor regularly, shop for healthy foods to keep around the house, and make time for exercise—even if it’s just 10 minutes of walking each day. It’s also important to take time for hobbies and fun. Schedule one night per week to meet with friends or go on a date with your spouse. Or, schedule a manicure or facial or go to a movie you’ve been dying to see. These self-care activities are critical for your health and ultimately will make you a better and more reliable caregiver.
It’s hard to get away to find the support you need, but MeMD is here to help you stay well without needing an appointment to see a physician. You can also count on us for affordable, private online therapy sessions with licensed therapists available for consultation within 24 hours.