Home Instead Blog

7 Steps to Reduce CAREGiver Stress
Mar 14, 2014

Stress and exhaustion are the most common hitches for those caring for a loved one or friend with Alzheimer's or other dementia. Resulting mostly in caregiver stress — the emotional worry of tending to a loved one — is one of the major reasons people with the disease enter home care facilities.

Keep track of your stress levels by asking yourself whether you're experiencing any of the below emotional and physical symptoms. For an even better reality check, have your partner or other loved one answer the questions for you to see what someone close to you thinks.

There's no procedure for outlining your stress level, but if your yes answers outnumber your no answers, or if just two or three of the categories seem to apply to you, consider taking steps to reduce your levels of stress.

1. A short fuse

  • Do you lose your temper fast?
  • Do you feel angry with your parent?
  • Do you feel irritable towards any other family members or find you shouting or snapping at them?

One of the more recognisable signs of caregiver stress is losing your cool easily. Frustration may particularly increase when challenges come up, whether big or small.

2. Emotional outbreaks

  • Do you cry often or suddenly?
  • Do you experience feelings of despair?
  • Do you have striking mood swings?

It's natural to grieve as your parent's condition deteriorates. It's also normal to feel a complicated variety of emotions about having to parent your own parent. But if you’re progressively emotional or feeling emotionally delicate, there is something more going on.

Depression is a real risk for caregivers. Even if you're not clinically depressed, emotional outbreaks can be an unconscious outlet for feelings of being overwhelmed.

3. Sleep problems

  • Do you have trouble falling asleep?
  • Do you have trouble staying asleep?
  • Do you wake up tired?

Caregiving -- especially full-time -- requires incredible physical efforts, even in the disease's early stages. But if your parent wanders, or has upset sleep, you lose chances to rest on top of all the tiring work you do during the day. Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep can also be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression.

4. Significant weight change

  • Have you recently gained weight?
  • Have you recently lost weight?

For some people, stress can result in weight loss when they can't seem to find time to eat adequately or nutritiously. Anxiety often lowers the appetite as well. For others, feeling stressed or guilty leads to weight gain from mindless or emotionally triggered eating, frequent snacking, or quick but unhealthy food choices. Changes in eating and sleeping habits can also indicate depression.

If your weight has changed by more than five or ten pounds since you began caring for your parent, your body may be sending you an indication that you need help.

5. Energy Levels

  • Is it difficult to get motivated to complete things?
  • Do you feel sluggish even after a great night's rest?
  • Is it hard to concentrate when you read or carry out other mental tasks?
  • Do you feel bored?

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's involves constant vigilance and activity. So if you feel "off" instead of "on," it's hard to perform your tasks sufficiently. It may be that you find parts of the caregiving puzzle more difficult than others -- for example, managing your parent's finances or other health concerns

Sometimes the habits  that people with Alzheimer's thrive on can become stifling to a healthy adult child. Routines do help you and your parent get through the day more easily, but they can leave you feeling like you're stuck in a monotonous rut.

6. Physical illnesses

  • Do you get headaches often?
  • Have you had colds one after another?
  • Does your back or neck ache, or do you have other chronic pain
  • Have you developed high blood pressure?

Mental and emotional stress can cause physical illnesses. For example, stress can lead to headaches that are more regulare, more persistent, or stronger than you're used to. Under stress, your body is in a constant state of alert, which can cause your body to produce excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol, which can have many effects. You'll also lack the time or inclination to properly take care of yourself, setting the stage for more stress. Caregivers under stress may also find themselves suffering from high blood pressure or more frequent stomach aches, cold symptoms, muscle aches, or other health problems.

7. Social isolation

  • Do you sometimes go a whole day without seeing another adult aside from your parent?
  • Have you dropped out of your usual activities to care for your parent?
  • Can you remember the last time you had a whole day to yourself?
  • Do you feel like nobody understands?
  • Do you sometimes feel that other family members don't care as much about your parent's fate as you do?

Getting out can simply be hard if you're responsible for providing care. You may feel you lack the time for your former pursuits. Your parent's changes in behaviour may also make you feel embarrassed or make going out in public too onerous to attempt. Whether intentionally or not, you may become withdrawn. Unfortunately, social isolation itself contributes to stress, whereas being with others and taking time for yourself are both replenishing.

8. Complaints from family

  • Have you been accused of being a "control freak"?
  • Have you been told you don't spend enough time with your partner or children?
  • Are arguments with siblings over your parent's care on the rise?

It's a common caregiver temptation -- and mistake -- to take on the entire burden of care. It's also easy to make ourselves think that we have everything under control or that things aren't so bad. Denial is a powerful emotion. When you're in the thick of things, it can be hard to see other ways of doing it. Listening to an outsider can be healthy, even if you don't agree. What may sound like a criticism or complaint may have a nugget of truth that relates to your emotional well-being.

If you need a hand, Home Instead Senior Care has plenty of help available. Why not register for a Home instead Workshop simply Click Here or Check out our website for extra tips & advice.