While caregiving can be a very rewarding and bonding experience, it can also be very demanding. When you're a caregiver it's easy to forget about your own needs while catering to those of your loved ones, creating a stressful and potentially unhealthy situation for both parties.
The emotional stress involved with providing care, particularly for those who are working, can strain even the most capable person. The resulting feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation, exhaustion – and then guilt for having these feelings – can exact a heavy toll including physical problems.
So, too, can the effects of long-term caregiving. The findings from a study by Sung S. Park, a sociologist and demographer at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, showed that while caregivers suffered more psychological distress and fatigue than non-caregivers, the length of service made a pronounced difference. Long-term caregivers had much higher rates of physical symptoms like headaches, body aches and abdominal discomfort.
What’s more, a study published in The Gerontologist, comparing 576 family caregivers to nearly 3,000 non-caregivers during COVID, found significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression and disturbed sleep among the caregivers (average age, 59), most of whom were caring for people over 65.
So how do you know if caregiver stress is affecting you?
Emotional Signs of Caregiver Stress
- Moodiness/mood swings
- Irritability, easily frustrated, road rage
- Memory problems and lack of concentration
- Feeling out of control
- Increased substance abuse
Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress
- Back, shoulder or neck pain, muscle tension
- Stomach/digestive problems (upset or acid stomach, cramps, heartburn, gas, IBS, constipation, diarrhea)
- Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
- Loss of hair
- High blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, palpitations
- Chest pain
- Weakened immune system (more colds, flu, infections)
If you are experiencing some of the signs listed above, consider talking with a healthcare professional to help you evaluate your situation.
Remember, it is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a family caregiver. In fact, it is extremely important for both you and the person you are caring for that you prioritize your own physical and emotional care.
Try these self-care tips that will reduce caregiver stress, as well as the associated risks of ongoing stress. And try to keep your focus on the benefits of caregiving. Caregiving can give you a feeling of accomplishment, not only for the tasks completed, but also for building stronger and loving relationships with aging family members.Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – respite is good for you. If family and friends are unavailable, discover the ways that professional caregiving could provide a much-needed break.