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

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