Easing the Effects of Stress on Family Caregivers

Research says caregiving takes a toll on work and family life. Here are some tips to help you navigate what can be a difficult and stressful time.

by - Posted on May 26, 2016

A young woman comforts an ailing older man in his home

Content provided by Home Instead Senior Care.

Family caregivers—especially those who live a distance from their loved ones—often worry about how their family members are faring. When you can’t see the daily changes in the life of a family member, it’s difficult to know.

Add to that the stress of health problems that a caregiver’s family could be dealing with at home. Many family members are trying to care for aging parents, sick spouses and even grandchildren. That juggling act could make these caregivers susceptible to various other problems as well.

A new study suggests that family and unpaid caregivers who provide substantial help with their family members’ health care were more likely to miss out on valued activities, have a loss of work productivity, and experience emotional, physical and financial difficulties, according to an article published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Nearly eight million older adults with significant disabilities are estimated to live in their communities with help from family and unpaid caregivers. These caregivers not only provide most of their assistance with everyday activities, but they also help with a range of health care activities, including taking their loved ones to physician visits.

The study included 1,739 family and unpaid caregivers of 1,171 older adults. The caregivers provided substantial, some or no help with the older adults’ health care, which was defined as coordinating care and managing medications.

Caregivers who provided substantial help with health care for an aging loved one were more likely to:

  • Live with older adults,
  • Experience emotional, physical and financial difficulty,
  • Participate less in valued activities, such as visiting friends and family, going out for fun, attending religious services, and participating in club or group activities,
  • Report loss of work productivity, and
  • Utilize supportive services (although only about one-quarter utilized such services).

If you’re a family caregiver, why not determine whether stress could be taking a toll on your health by completing this free Family Caregiver Distress Assessment.

Then consider these tips, which are recommended while taking care of an aging loved one:

Work out: Exercise and enjoy something you like to do (walking, dancing, biking, running, swimming, etc.) for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times per week. Consider learning a stress-management exercise, such as yoga or tai-chi, which teaches inner balance and relaxation.

Meditate: Sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as "quiet" as possible whenever things feel like they are moving too quickly or you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver. Many times, you may feel like you don't even have a minute to yourself; however, it's important to walk away and to take that minute.

Ask for help: According to a national survey by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® franchise network, 72 percent of adults who are currently providing care for an aging loved one do so without any outside help. To help avoid burnout and stress, you should enlist the help of other family members and friends, and/or consider hiring a professional non-medical caregiver for assistance. There is no need to feel guilty for reaching out.

Take a break: Make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help (family, friends, volunteers or professional caregivers). Take a single day’s or even a week's vacation. Moreover, when you're away, stay away. Talk about different things, read that book you haven't been able to get to, take naps -- whatever relaxes you and makes you happy.

Eat well: Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains. Beware of indulging in caffeine, fast food and sugar, as quick "pick-me-ups," which also produce quick "let-downs."

Keep your medical appointments: Make sure you get your annual check-up. Being a caregiver provides many excuses for skipping your necessary check-ups, but you shouldn’t do that. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.

Support: Find a local caregiver support group. They will likely help you understand that what you are feeling and experiencing is normal. This is a place to get practical advice from people who are in your situation and to bounce off those feelings of stress, since everyone is likely to be in the same situation and can empathize.

For additional resources, check out CaregiverStress.com®.

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