Caregiving and stress
Caregivers provide care for a family member who has health problems, a disability, or a chronic illness. They provide many kinds of help, ranging from assistance with shopping to help with daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Most people who need help from caregivers are elderly. Providing care can be time-consuming and emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining. Stress builds up and can result in poor health and depression for the caregiver.
It is common for caregivers to feel stress, as well as anger, guilt, frustration, isolation, unhappiness in marriage, and dissatisfaction with life. Caregiver stress can be so overwhelming that older caregivers who live with the person they are helping have a higher chance of dying early.1 But even though it can be quite demanding and is linked to serious stress and health problems, being a caregiver can also be rewarding. Providing for the needs of someone you care about can be very satisfying and can deepen family bonds. The key to being a successful caregiver is to avoid stress and burnout by seeking support and taking good care of yourself.
Seek social support for yourself and your loved one
Positive support from family, friends, and the community is important in relieving caregiver stress and helping the person you are caring for. There are several steps you can take to increase social support:
- Ask family members for help and include them in decision making.
- Stay involved with social activities, and help the person you are caring for stay involved as much as possible. Friends can offer support and help reduce stress.
- Join a support group for caregivers in your situation. Many support groups are available on the Internet.
- Look for caregiving resources in your community. If your
family member has a limited income, he or she may be eligible for special
programs. Help for caregivers is often offered by:
- Churches or other religious organizations.
- Organizations such as your local Area Agency on Aging.
Take care of yourself
As a caregiver, it is important to put your own health first. Take the following steps to take care of yourself:
- Set aside personal time to do things you enjoy and things you need to get done.
- Eat a nutritious diet that is low in saturated fat and includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Get enough sleep.
- Get regular exercise.
- Take a break. To maintain your physical and mental health, it is essential to periodically take time off from caregiving responsibilities. Respite care programs are available to provide temporary care.
- It is common for caregivers to become depressed. If you think you may have symptoms of depression, such as lack of interest in things you enjoy, lack of energy, or trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor.
- Plan for what you will do when your caregiving ends.
- Try to respond to problems when they occur with solutions rather than emotions.
Last Updated: April 22, 2009