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How to recognize – and manage – caregiver stress

Being a caregiver is often a 24/7 responsibility. The loved one you’re helping to look after may need assistance at any time of day, no matter what you’re doing or how you’re feeling. The responsibility – even if you would never think of giving it up – can be utterly draining.

It is of little surprise so many people in this position experience caregiver stress, even if they don’t recognize it in the moment. So what should you watch out for? And how can you relieve some pressure before you end up burnt out and dealing with your own poor health?

Signs you’re experiencing caregiver stress

What does caregiver stress look and feel like? Someone experiencing it may:

  • Feel overwhelmed or sad
  • Stop enjoying things they used to like doing
  • Experience constant fatigue
  • Rely on an unhealthy diet
  • Become easily annoyed or irritated

These symptoms can have a negative impact on your physical health. You might experience unhealthy weight changes, get headaches or other bodily pain, develop a weakened immune system, or become depressed or anxious.

One study found 11% of caregivers said the responsibility caused their physical health to worsen. In addition, 72% of caregivers admitted they hadn’t been going to the doctor as much as they should, and 58% said their eating habits worsened after they accepted the role.

How to alleviate caregiver stress

One of the most effective ways to relieve caregiver stress is to take care of yourself. Mayo Clinic has suggestions for how to do that. It can include:

  • Accepting when you need help
  • Focusing on what is within your power to provide
  • Finding support, either through a group or by relying on family and friends
  • Prioritizing your health, such as by setting goals for things like sleep and exercise
  • Utilizing respite care to give yourself a break

As a caregiver, your first thought most days is about how you’re going to help your loved one. You may even feel guilty for considering your needs at times. But as the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Only by being there for yourself can you truly be there for others.

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