Caregiver Stress – What is it and what can you do to help?

Taking care of an ageing parent, spouse, a sick relative or child is a responsibility many of us face during life. It can be incredibly rewarding and help us bond with our loved ones as we support them through their challenges. But the stress of caregiving for a loved one is very real, whether that person lives with you, elsewhere in the same country or lives overseas. The physical, mental and emotional impact can be significant and have a huge impact on your life. 

Learning to recognize signs and symptoms of caregiver stress is important  as you can take action to prevent things from worsening and start improving the situation for you and your loved one. Common signs and symptoms of caregiver stress are

  • Anxiety, depression and irritability
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Feeling resentful
  • Cutting back on your own leisure activities

If you live in a different country to the person you care for, the emotional burden can be very high, with worry and potentially guilt about the situation. Financial concerns about providing quality care and keeping your loved one safe may also be a consideration.

If you notice things are becoming more difficult for you it is important to seek help and support for yourself to not feel alone. Talking to a trusted friend or therapist can give you an outlet for your feelings and concerns. Connecting to other caregivers through support groups or charitable organizations specific to your loved ones condition can reduce feelings of isolation and provide practical support and resources. Self care can be hard to prioritize but is incredibly important, we need to keep ourselves strong to be able to offer support to others. Prioritizing regular time for activities you enjoy and time for small treats can keep you resilient to the challenges that inevitably come. Attending to your own physical health needs is important too, having your own health check ups, exercise and eating well help to keep your body strong so you can continue to care for your loved one.

The emotional impact of caregiving can be significant and can magnify any difficulties that may exist in the relationship we have with our loved one. We can experience grief over the loss of a loved one even whilst they are still alive, conditions like dementia can involve the loss of the person as we know them, with changes in personality, loss of memories, and changes in what they can do and how they communicate. We can mourn the loss of our previous relationship with them and mourn the loss of our life before the caregiving responsibilities. This grief can be more complex if we already have a complex relationship with our loved one. Seeking support is important to help work through and process these emotions and our responses to them. 

Written by:
Jennie Bhangu
Occupational Therapist
SACAC Counselling

Traumatic Stress

Traumatic stress can be triggered by a variety of events, such as traffic accidents, plane crashes, violent crimes, terrorist attacks, global pandemics, and natural disasters. You may be overwhelmed by conflicting emotions such as shock, confusion, or fear at the same time. These emotions are not unique to those who have experienced an event.

Traumatic stress can harm your mental and physical health if the trauma was manmade, such as a shooting or act of terrorism. Physically and emotionally drained, overcome with grief, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, or unable to control your temper may be some of the symptoms you experience. These types of responses can result from having to deal with abnormal events.

Symptoms of trauma include headaches, nausea, and irritability, which gradually subside as life gradually returns to normal after a catastrophic event. However, you can do many things to support your recovery and cope effectively with your trauma. You can calm yourself and regain your emotional balance, regardless of whether you were the victim, a witness, or a first responder.

Traumatic stress is associated with the following emotional symptoms:

Overwhelming shock and disbelief. Feeling numb and disconnected from your feelings, or having trouble accepting the truth of what happened.

Fear. Worrying about the same thing happening again, or losing control, makes you feel like you’re going to break down.

A feeling of sadness or grief, especially if you know someone who has passed away or suffered a life-altering event.

Feeling of helplessness. 

When a violent crime, an accident, a pandemic, or a natural disaster strikes unexpectedly, you may feel vulnerable and helpless.

A sense of guilt for surviving when others have died, or the feeling of regret for not doing more.

Feelings of anger. Your anger may be directed at God, government officials, or others you believe to be responsible, or you may be susceptible to emotional outbursts.

Shame occurs when you are unable to control your feelings or fears.

Feeling relieved. You might be relieved that it’s over, hoping life will return to normal, or wondering if it is.

The process of dealing with painful emotions 

If you have suffered any losses, allow yourself to grieve and heal.     

Healing and recovery takes time, so don’t rush it. Don’t be surprised if your emotions are volatile and difficult. Embrace your feelings without judgement or guilt. Be able to connect with uncomfortable emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.

When you are traumatized, how do you feel grounded?

Try this simple exercise if you are feeling overwhelmed by traumatic stress:

Place your feet on the ground and your back is supported by a chair. Choose six objects around you that are red or blue. By doing this, you should be able to feel grounded, engaged and more in your body. Observe how your breath becomes deeper and calmer.

Another alternative is to go outside and sit on the grass and just let the ground support you.


Sansbury, Brittany S, Kelly Graves, and Wendy Scott. “Managing Traumatic Stress Responses among Clinicians: Individual and Organizational Tools for Self Care.” Trauma 17, no. 2 (April 1, 2015): 114–22.

Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Association.

1.Perkonigg, A., R. C. Kessler, S. Storz, and H-U. Wittchen. “Traumatic Events and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the Community: Prevalence,Risk Factors and Comorbidity.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 101, no. 1 (2000): 46–59. 

2.Copeland, William E., Gordon Keeler, Adrian Angold, and E. Jane Costello. “Traumatic Events and Posttraumatic Stress in Childhood.” Archives of General Psychiatry 64, no. 5 (May 1, 2007): 577–84.

Written by:
Leah Selakovic
SACAC Counselling