Caregivers: What is Caregiver Stress?
Caregivers may experience stress from the emotional and physical strain of caring for a loved one.
Who is a caregiver?
People who are not paid to provide care are known as informal caregivers or family caregivers. The most common type of informal caregiving relationship is an adult child caring for an elderly parent. Other types of caregiving relationships include: adults caring for other relatives, such as grandparents or siblings, spouses caring for one another, middle-aged parents caring for severely disabled adult children, adults caring for friends and neighbors, and children caring for a disabled parent or elderly grandparent. During any given year, there are more than 44 million Americans (21 percent of the adult population) who provide unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person 18 years or older. Informal caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care in the United States. Fifty-nine percent of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to caring for another person. Because of time spent caregiving, more than half of employed caregivers have made changes at work, school, or with other family, such as going in late, leaving early, or working fewer hours.
What is caregiver stress?
These are the conditions which contribute to a condition known as caregiver stress or fatigue. Simply put, caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. It can take many forms, but it is an unintended side effect to being a helper to another over a long time and results in less than pleasant emotions. For example, a caregiver might feel:
- Frustrated taking care of someone with many needs who many not seem appreciative
- Guilty because you think that you should be able to provide better care, despite all the other things that you have to do
- Lonely because all the time you spend caregiving has hurt your social/leisure life
- Exhausted when you go to bed at night and when you wake up each morning
- Angry at the unending list of chores or direction of the person’s illness and your helplessness
- Worry about expenses and outcomes
- Grief for a life which may not ‘go back to how it used to be’ and fear of how it will be in the future
Although caregiving can be challenging, it is important to note that it can also have its rewards. It can give you a feeling of giving back to a loved one. It can also make you feel needed and can lead to a stronger relationship with the person receiving care. About half of caregivers report that:
- They appreciate life more as a result of their caregiving experience
- It has helped them be more compassionate to others
- Caregiving has made them feel good about themselves
- It has taught them and their families about the simple joys of life
Caregiving can make an impact upon your health so it is very important to take care of your physical and mental health if you are a direct caregiver. It is important to keep your appointments for physicals, and mind any symptoms. Simple items such as eating right, getting proper rest and exercise and not smoking or drinking can make a vast difference in the physical drain of caregiving.
The mental strain of giving care is significant and ideally caregivers would have respite therapy and support groups and take advantage of caregiving resources in the community. However the research has shown that those who have developed spiritual support in prayer, meditation, journaling, yoga, walking, or music practice had the best mental health despite the caregiving burdens. Self-care in the face of caring for another is very good preventative ‘medicine’- and affordable!
This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S., a psychotherapist in general private practice in Lehigh Valley, PA specializing in grief, trauma, chronic pain, and adult autism. If you would like to know more about her practice, please review her website www.tinkerpsychotherapy.com or contact her directly at 610-216-4319. Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral.com for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.