Many challenges associated with caregiving can add to your stress and increase your risk of caregiver stress syndrome. Learn how to avoid this condition and what to do if it happens to you.
What Is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Caregivers support people who need assistance with various tasks and activities due to age, illness, disability, or other reasons. These responsibilities include personal care activities such as bathing, toileting, grooming, and dressing. Or, it can involve nursing care, like administering medication.
Of course, caregivers help with many other duties, such as organizing and providing transportation, providing companionship, grocery shopping, bill pay, and so much more. So naturally, this obligation is a significant commitment for family caregivers. The average family caregiver spends 24 hours per week helping their care recipient. In addition, 45% report one or more financial impacts due to their role.
The time and financial commitments place extreme strain on caregivers. Unfortunately, they are only two of the many challenges family caregivers face. These challenges contribute to caregivers’ burden and increase the risk of caregiver stress syndrome.
Caregiver stress syndrome is a state of physical, mental, and emotional fatigue. This condition occurs when caregivers overlook their physical and emotional wellbeing because of their relentless focus on supporting the care recipient.
What Are The Effects Of Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Caregiver stress syndrome can cause many negative consequences on health, from high blood pressure to diabetes to lower immunity and more. For example, an alarming rate of caregivers experience depression (40% to 70%), and most suffer from anxiety due to their role.
Mood swings such as anger and irritability are also typical of this condition, as caregivers often experience high levels of stress and frustration. Those who care for a loved one with cognitive decline have an exceptionally high risk of lower mental health, with 30% to 40% of dementia caregivers reporting emotional strain and depression.
Naturally, these issues can have major long-term consequences for family caregivers and their loved ones. For example, overburdened, undersupported caregivers are more prone to errors. They also suffer fatigue that can impair the quality of care. Moreover, their emotional burden can interfere with their relationship with their loved ones.
Facts About Caregiver Stress Syndrome
- 11% of caregivers report worse physical health due to their role.
- 45% of caregivers have at least one chronic condition, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Compared to non-caregivers, caregivers have 23% higher cortisol levels and 15% lower antibody levels.
- 10% of primary caregivers experience physical stress from physically supporting their loved ones.
- Female caregivers who care for their spouse at least 9 hours a week have a 100% higher risk of heart disease.
- The mortality rate for caregivers between 66 and 96 is 63% higher than for their non-caregiver counterparts.
What Are The Signs Of Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
For family caregivers, it can be difficult to notice the effects of caregiver stress syndrome before it’s too late. Learning about the signs can help lower your risk, so look for symptoms of caregiver stress syndrome, such as:
- Lower immunity
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in sleep quality or patterns
- Physical, emotional, and mental fatigue
- Intrusive thoughts of hurting yourself or the care recipient
- Feeling melancholy, hopelessness, frustration, or helplessness
- Diminished interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.
Over time, excessive stress levels can hurt your health. To avoid the long-lasting impact of caregiver stress syndrome, it’s crucial to recognize the signs. If you experience any of these symptoms or know someone who does, seek help as soon as possible.
How To Manage Caregiver Stress Syndrome
After identifying caregiver stress syndrome symptoms, you can learn healthy coping strategies. The solution is to prioritize your health so you can keep caring for your loved one to the best of your ability!
Try not to feel shame for having this condition, and don’t feel guilty for taking time to manage it. Caregiving is one of the most challenging roles that anyone can take on. And unfortunately, healthcare organizations, employers, policymakers, and others often overlook this population. So no wonder family caregivers experience such high rates of burnout!
Still, resources are available to support you and ease your burden. Here are a few ways to manage caregiver stress syndrome.
Take A Respite Break
Many family caregivers assume they can manage their role alone, but doing so is a surefire way to develop caregiver stress syndrome. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for routine respite breaks, including other relatives, friends, and local support groups.
There are several options for respite, including:
- In-home nursing care
- Personal care aide (PCA)
- Adult day programs
Consider finding a fellow caregiver near you who can care for your loved one while you take a respite break. Then, you could offer the same to them when they need it. Whatever your arrangement, use the break to reset and recharge. Enjoy a favorite hobby or activity, treat yourself, or catch up on personal tasks.
Self-care means more than spa days, naps, and deep breathing exercises. It also means being proactive about your health. Of course, that means eating right, sleeping enough, staying hydrated, and exercising (even if it’s a 15-minute walk).
Respite is a great time to practice self-care by scheduling your health appointments, including your primary physician, specialists, or therapist. Addressing your wellbeing assures you will continue providing quality care to your loved one.
Respite breaks are also an excellent time to catch up on your social needs, especially if you typically neglect this aspect of self-care. Still, staying connected outside these breaks is essential, as regularly talking to family and friends can help you build resilience and relieve stress. If possible, build social activities into your weekly routine, even if it’s a 30-minute coffee break with a friend.
Your emotional health is equally important as your physical wellbeing, so don’t forget to address those needs. For instance, venting can ease some negativity you feel about your role. You don’t have to see a mental health professional, but you should use other outlets to relieve your feelings. For example, you could join a caregiver support group, an online forum, or talk to a relative or close friend.
Caregiver stress syndrome develops when you have more than you can reasonably handle. So start by assessing different areas of your role and delegating responsibilities where possible. For example, if your loved one…
- Has frequent doctor’s appointments during the workweek, you can arrange transportation assistance for seniors and people with disabilities.
- Needs help with meals during your kids’ extracurriculars, you can organize meal delivery or a monthly subscription service.
- Requires supervision throughout the day, then you can enroll them in adult day services.
You might be surprised at the available services and how affordable some can be.
Additionally, consider hiring a housekeeping service if it’s within your budget. Doing so might seem extraneous. But finding someone else to help your loved one with weekly or monthly upkeep could significantly ease your physical and mental burden.
Search for local resources, including classes and programs, for caregivers in your area. Many courses are available to educate caregivers about common illnesses in the elderly. In addition, you may find free or low-cost transportation, meal delivery, and housekeeping services.
When you go to others for help, bring a list of ideas for them to choose from. For example, your brother may volunteer to take your mother on a walk every other day. Or her neighbor may be willing to pick up and deliver groceries if you place the order at the store for them.
Discuss Your Options With Your Employer
60% of family caregivers work full-time, which can disrupt both roles. But unfortunately, far too many working caregivers hesitate to ask their employer for extra support that would minimize these interruptions.
Many companies are adding caregiver employee benefits, such as leave, flex time, and more. In addition, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may entitle additional resources and benefits.
The FMLA offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually to eligible family caregivers. Talk to your HR department to learn about this or other employer programs.
Go Easy On Yourself
Caregivers often feel guilty because they feel like they can (and should) do more for their loved ones, their families, and everyone else. However, managing every area of your life to perfection is impossible. No one expects you to do so (and if they do, then they’re the unreasonable ones).
So go easy on yourself and recognize that your best is enough. Find ways to streamline your responsibilities, like enlisting other family members for help. Or seek outside help from local support groups. Don’t be afraid to say no, and don’t wait to get help until you’re at your breaking point.
Seek Support From Your Loved One’s Care Team
Your loved one has a team of trained professionals with significant knowledge, skills, and resources. They are equipped to help your loved one and can also support you if you ask.
That said, talk to your loved one’s care team about your needs as the family caregiver. They can connect you to outside services or find solutions to issues facing you and your loved one.
MeetCaregivers Can Help You Avoid Caregiver Stress Syndrome
Caregiver stress syndrome can affect you and your loved one’s quality of life. Whether you provide temporary care or long-term support, learning how to manage your symptoms is essential.
A professional caregiver can provide regular respite so you can lower your risk of caregiver stress syndrome. Doing so offers a chance to focus on yourself and improve your resilience.
For additional information about caregiving or aging in place, visit our Blog.
- AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving. Caregiving in the United States 2020. Washington, DC: AARP. May 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/ppi.00103.001
- Ingber, R. (2021, May 12). Caregiver Stress Syndrome. Caregiver Stress Syndrome – Caregiver.com. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://caregiver.com/articles/caregiver-stress-syndrome/
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, March 22). Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself. Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself – Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784