It’s not easy being a caregiver. Ask anyone who is caring for a loved one. Caregiver stress is real, and it can cause significant health issues left unchecked.
Let’s first talk about how widespread caregiver stress is in the U.S. alone. In 2020, 48 million caregivers were caring for an adult. That means men and women taking care of their spouse, adult children taking care of parents or other family members, siblings taking care of brothers or sisters, or friends taking care of friends. If you are a caregiver, as I am, we are in good company.
Here’s another staggering statistic; 23% of those caregivers say their health has taken a hit because of their role in caring for another adult. It can happen to the best of us, the strongest among us—and even when we think we’re taking good care of ourselves.
That means it can sneak up on us when we least expect it, and often at the worst possible time. So, learning how to care for yourself while caring for others takes intention and commitment so that you can stay healthy and strong enough to weather the caregiver stress that comes with round-the-clock vigilance.
Acknowledging the Stress of Caregiving
For starters, caregivers are human, and we have limits. Knowing what those limits are and setting boundaries, so you don’t push those limits, is key to sustaining the ‘always on’ mode that caregivers can experience.
What about the times when you feel overwhelmed and frustrated. That can lead to exhaustion. And then, there is the isolation and loneliness. You might feel sad at times—maybe a lot.
Another emotional roller coaster ride can come from the eternal worry—am I doing everything I can? Am I making the right decisions? How much should I share or hold back, so I don’t worry him?
Then there are the changes in your own body, mind, and spirit because you’re more focused on your loved one than on your own well-being. Is your weight fluctuating? Have you completely lost interest in activities that you used to love? Are you tired all the time? Many caregivers live in a heightened state of anxiety.
All of this leads up to caregiver stress. And, unless you take notice before it gets out of hand, this continuing behavior will take your health down for the count.
Now, imagine that happens. You start to feel ill and unable to keep up the pace. Ask yourself, who will take care of you—nevermind who will take care of your loved one?
Whenever you step into the role of caregiver, you are taking on a responsibility to manage your own care, as well. And that takes some planning. Just as you would plan your time for making meals, medication schedule, doctors’ appointments, personal hygiene, and the like for your loved one, so you must plan for yourself.
Six Ways to Care for the Caregiver
First, remember how many caregivers there are in the U.S.—and there are likely as many around the world, given that the world population is aging. Consequently, we are not alone. Caregiver stress is real, and many struggle with it. That means there is a lot of wisdom to be garnered if only we reach out to others.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1–Please don’t do it alone! What could someone else do that would help you? Who can you ask for help? It can be the hardest thing to do at first because you’re strong, resourceful, and resilient—until you’re not. Ask for help before you reach the breaking point.
2–Getting support is a little different than asking for help. You may need a sounding board, devil’s advocate, or consultant. On the other hand, you may need a shoulder to cry on. Find those people and keep them close.
3–Doing your best doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. The best advice I have received is to learn the concept of “good enough.” This recovering perfectionist had a habit of wanting everything to be perfect. Caregiver stress can go through the roof when being perfect is your standard.
4–Setting boundaries and saying “no” will lower your level of stress remarkably. Following that, you may need to release the guilt that frequently comes after the “no.”
5–Break down significant issues or tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. It’s easier to make progress taking baby steps than trying to tackle the elephant.
6–Schedule time to care for the caregiver. That’s you! Create a daily routine that offers you time to relax and recharge. What brings you joy? Do that. Think of what you need to do regularly to reset yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
You Can Relieve Your Caregiver Stress
With research to find the right resources, reaching out to family and friends, and establishing a frequent self-care practice that allows time for you to be at your best, you can relieve the stress that comes from constant caregiving.
Give yourself a break, literally. Carve out time each day just for you. And know that when you are at your best, everyone else around you will benefit—and may even take your lead.
Take the First Step
When life-changing moments suddenly flip your world upside down—and becoming a caregiver can do that real fast—you may not know who you are anymore or what comes next. I create a bridge for women to walk from that chaos to a place where they can find calmness and clarity. You get to build resilience along the way and learn to live a life guided by personal values and vision. To learn more about the impact change can have on your life and how to move through it with more dignity and grace, request my free book From Darkness to Light: Learning to Adapt to Change and Move Through Transition.