Caregiver Stress: Signs, Symptoms and Relief

Caregiver burnout is a real and dangerously growing phenomenon among the “sandwich” generation. There are many adults, mostly adult daughters caring for their family and meeting the needs of their own children while juggling the needs and at times demands of their aging parent/s. Some may feel overwhelmed and feel themselves becoming increasingly agitated while others may begin to resent the demands placed on them and begin to lash out in passive aggressive ways. Feelings of stress could cause a once loving child to wish their parent would just die so that there can be some relief. Of course most do not ever verbalize this because if said out loud would be a cruel and horrible thought, but I have counseled many families and I have often times within the confines of our counseling sessions heard this very sentiment.

If not ameliorated caregiver stress can become full blown depression and the end results could be hazardous to the individual and the family system.

What exactly is caregiver stress and how can you identify the signs and symptoms?

Caregiver stress is stress caregivers experience when providing care to another person suffering from some type of illness. Caregiver stress is not limited to individuals caring for a loved one. This definition can also include medical professionals and others working in a medical field providing hands on care and counseling to individuals.

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Stress

  • Sense of failure
  • Discouragement/Indifference
  • Negativism
  • Excessive Anxiety
  • Rigidity in thinking/Resistance to Change
  • Marital/Family Conflict
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Isolation/Withdrawal
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Inability to Concentrate
  • Frequent Headaches/Gastrointestinal Disturbances
  • Feeling Immobilized/”Stuck”  “In a rut”
  Blaming Attitude
  • Self-Preoccupation
  • Frequent Colds/Flu
  • More Approving of Behavior-Control Measures (tranquilizers)

The following are some ways to combat caregiver stress:

Take personal responsibility for your feelings. Understand personal warning signs of stress and attempt to diffuse the situation by utilizing the following techniques:

  • Educate yourself in problem-solving strategies
  • Do not take other’s reactions personally. When under stress we have a higher tendency to personalize other’s actions. The other person may not have intentionally offended us. Also when under stress we have a tendency to overreact, even when an offense was directed at us.
  • Take a time-out  to gather your thoughts and calm down when offended
  • LOL (laugh out loud): laughter is the best medicine.
  • Be kind to yourself. So often we are our own worst critics and are too hard on ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes and just because we fail it does not make us failures.
  • Give yourself permission to have fun
. Do something you really enjoy at least once a day, i.e. take 30 minutes to read a good book, get a massage, put some fun music on and dance or sing, ect…
  • Exercise, even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference
  • Make good food and drink choices.
  • Rest when you need it. I cannot overemphasize the importance of sleep. Much research has been done in this area and the detriments lack of sleep causes the body.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We are not super heroes, and are not meant to live this life alone. Find the resources available to you and use them. Some may include: other family members, church organizations, private for hire individuals, organizations and/or associations who provide respite care.
  • Join a support group. Often times we feel no one can possibly understand what we are going through. Support groups are a good way to share your feelings and learn from other who have gone through what you are experiencing. You will learn how to cope from others who have shared your experience.  There are all types of support groups and you can find one to fit your needs.
  • Talk to those around you; be honest about how you are feeling. It is so easy when we are stressed to retreat to ourselves and isolate, that is one of the worst things you can do. The more you isolate the more your feelings of caregiver burnout will increase. It is important to make connections and not let pride get in the way of being honest. Not everyone will understand. Your need is not to educate others, but to be honest about your need for help and to make the necessary changes in order to effectuate change in your life. It is important that when you are ready to open up to others that you seek out people you can trust and can provide you a unhurried, listening ear.
  • Journal: this is a great way to understand our own feelings and to vocalize our feelings without the pressure of other’s opinions and unsolicited advice.
  • Therapy: it takes a very brave person to admit they cannot cope with life’s situations and to reach out for help. Therapy is a great tool to help individuals who are struggling and need to gain better insight into their situation and how to make positive changes in their life.
  • Most of all, call out to God. In times of stress it is very difficult to see the hand of God in our lives. We may feel that He has forgotten us. The storms of our lives make it seem as though we are drowning- In Mark 4 the disciples had a similar experience. The disciples asked Him in vs38, “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing” AKA “Jesus don’t you love us enough to do something?” Read His response for yourself – Increase your faith and Your peace will increase. Christ is the ultimate example, in the midst of the storm He was in perfect peace because He knew He was in His Father’s hands.

Caring for loved ones need not take away from your quality of life. There are many resources available. In life we must have balance and when we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot care for others.

~Cary Sanchez, LCSW