While it is crucial to protect the wellbeing of healthcare teams, it is also essential to relieve caregiver stress. Caregivers, regardless of whether they do it full time or part-time, are critical health care resources. This makes it more important for caregivers to find ways to relieve caregiver stress to prevent burnout.
Family members or friends are usually the primary caregivers for the elderly or disabled. A considerable part of caregiving responsibilities falls on adult children, spouses and grandchildren.
Caregiver responsibilities take shape in many forms. It may include assisting with personal care and hygiene, medical tasks, mobility, and household chores. Unlike a full-time job that comes to an end when the clock strikes 6 pm, there is no end to being a caregiver. Caregivers have to be alert and take care of their care recipient, 24/7.
Thus, it is no wonder that it can be physically taxing, emotional draining, isolating, and stressful being a caregiver. Not surprisingly, depression affects 20-40% of all caregivers (source). As such, it is vital that we find ways to help relieve caregiver stress.
With so many heavy responsibilities on their shoulders, how do we relieve caregiver stress?
What is caregiver stress?
Before we get into how to relieve caregiver stress, let us first understand what caregiver stress is.
Caregiver stress occurs when caregivers are too absorbed in their role and forget to take care of their own health. There are also different kinds of caregiver stress – role strain, personal strain, and worry about performance.
Role strain, quite obviously, refers to stress that comes from the role of a caregiver. The demands of a caregiver include worrying about their patient round the clock, taking care of their patient while dealing with their personal lives and worrying about finances.
Personal strain refers to caregivers’ direct impact of not having enough time for themselves. This can encompass not being able to sleep well, feeling embarrassed when they bring their patient out or having no time to hang out with their friends.
The last category of strain refers to stress that comes from others or themselves. Caregivers tend to be very hard on themselves. They put extra stress on themselves if they feel like they are not doing enough for their patients. Stress can also come from the scrutiny of others. Siblings or other family members who are not involved in caregiving may pass hurtful comments.
Regardless of the type of caregiver stress, there are different ways to relieve caregiver stress.
What causes caregiver stress?
Personal and external factors can cause caregiver stress or strain.
Caregivers usually put their patients ahead of themselves, neglecting their own wellbeing in the process. Sometimes, caregivers also have exceptionally high expectations for themselves. Other than high expectations for themselves, some even expect their patients’ conditions to improve under their care. However, this is rarely the case, causing more stress on themselves.
Another reason that makes it hard to relieve caregiver stress is that caregiver stress also arises from external factors. These include a lack of support or increased pressure from family members.
Without sufficient support and no other people to rely on, caregivers tend to overload all responsibilities on themselves with no respite. Moreover, other family members who are not involved in caregiving may have unrealistic demands and expectations.
When help isn’t available, caregivers will not have enough time, money or energy to manage both their patients and themselves, increasing their stress levels.
Signs of caregiver stress
It is indeed dangerous if we do not help to relieve caregiver stress. An obvious sign of caregiver stress or burnout is when caregivers do not find meaning in their caregiving responsibilities anymore. Further, they might experience increased anxiety, depression, irritability and impatience.
Caregivers who experience a lot of stress often feel overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless. Desperate for an outlet to express their helplessness, caregivers who are burned out may have the urge to hurt themselves or even the person they are caring for. Caregivers may even withdraw from their friends and family.
They will also lose interest in the activities that they once enjoyed. Additionally, caregivers will also constantly worry about their caregiving responsibilities, making it hard for them to relax even when help is available.
Besides the emotional and mental impact, caregivers may also start to display physical symptoms. Some of the symptoms can include loss of appetite, exhaustion, falling sick more easily and insomnia. If they do not find ways to relieve caregiver stress, it can eventually lead to them quitting, which compromises the care that the patient receives.
Ways to relieve caregiver stress
Given its stresses and responsibilities, coping with being a caregiver may seem very daunting. However, there are many ways caregivers can relieve caregiver stress. Let us explore some ways to relieve caregiver stress! Hopefully, some of these will be useful for you or your loved ones involved in caregiving.
Recharge your body and mind
One easy way to relieve caregiver stress is always to ensure that you have enough energy before carrying out caregiver tasks. Caregivers must acknowledge that they are exhausted and take the effort to rest up.
Caregivers can recharge to try relaxation techniques, such as going for walks, meditation, and doing things that they usually enjoy out of caregiving. Further, eating well and exercising regularly is important to relieve caregiver stress.
It is highly recommended for caregivers to take 10-20 minutes out of their day to clear their heads when they feel overwhelmed. Caregivers can also learn meditation techniques from classes. If running low on time, caregivers can learn through tapes, online lessons, meditation apps or even books.
Regardless of the relaxation technique caregivers opt for, they must slow down and focus on clearing their minds. This way, anxiety can be lowered, which can help to relieve caregiver stress.
Recognise what you can and cannot change
One crucial way to relieve caregiver stress is to accept things as they are. It is dangerous for caregivers to have unrealistic expectations that their patient will recover under their care. Caregivers should accept the fact that they are not responsible for the recovery of their patient.
Caregivers should also learn to work with where their patients are. Don’t push their patients to be someone they no longer are. When caregivers cannot let go of unrealistic expectations, they need to bring themselves back to reality.
Caregivers can try to forge new relationships with their patients to forget the past and set the new reality. This will help reduce stress and relieve caregiver stress.
Reach out for help
As caregivers, we are sometimes reluctant to ask for help as we think that we can do everything. However, it is important for caregivers to take respite. To help relieve caregiver stress, caregivers should approach a neighbour, a friend, a relative or a home care worker who can take care of their patients.
Even if it was for a few hours, it could be enough for caregivers to take care of themselves, go shopping or just have some quiet time to themselves. Caregivers can also this time to recharge their bodies and mind.
Identify sources of help available. Sources to help relieve caregiver stress include local and state government services, daycare centres and respite services. Caregivers can make a list of these resources and consider utilising them.
Even if caregivers do not adopt external help, they can easily enlist others in their family. Even with their family members not being equipped to provide round the clock care, they can take on tasks such as grocery shopping, paying bills and coordinating medical appointments.
Find a support group
Never try to do it alone.
A huge part of relieving caregiver stress is talking to others in the same or similar situation. While caregivers may feel like they are alone, there are tons of people in the world who are facing the same thing.
Caregivers should seek out support groups, either online or in person. With these support groups occurring weekly, caregivers can receive advice or simply rant to others who can understand their situation. Sometimes, talking about your worries can be very beneficial and help to relieve caregiver stress.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
Last tip for caregivers: Don’t be so hard on yourself!
As a caregiver, you need to acknowledge that you are doing the best you can for your patient. Be sure to let yourself feel a sense of accomplishment and give yourself credit for all the work that you are doing.
Caregiving is never easy. While it is a fulfilling experience as a caregiver, it is also important for caregivers to care for themselves. Caregiving can be overwhelming at times, making it essential that they take the effort to relieve caregiver stress to avoid caregiver burnout.
Follow our tips above, and hopefully, you will be able to relieve the caregiver stress you feel. Take care of yourself!