Living well Your Health & Wellness

To help relieve stress, understand and recognize caregiver strain

Written by Julie Potyraj

As a family caregiver, you provide support for a variety of reasons, but the most important is that you care deeply about your loved ones. And, if you’re like most caregivers, you find the work rewarding. However, the satisfaction from the work often hides the toll it takes on your health. Strains on your emotional, mental and physical health can be difficult to spot. To help relieve stress, understand and recognize caregiver strains; you’re not alone.

Emotional Health

Family caregivers give emotional support to their loved ones. As a caregiver, your challenge is often that you provide support for a loved one’s fear, depression or anxiety, at the same time that you experience the same emotions. You may also feel anger and resentment about your new role. It’s not unusual for caregivers to direct their anger toward their loved ones for being the source of new responsibilities, toward others who have not stepped up to help, or even toward the world or their faith for bringing this new responsibility upon them. And, it’s OK.

Mental Health

Research shows that caregivers experience elevated levels of stress and depression. Many caregivers feel constant anxiety or worry related to their ability to care for their loved ones. You may experience grief over your loved one’s loss of independence and may pre-emptively grieve the loss of someone who is either terminally ill or losing mental ability. You may feel angry about the situation or feel like you are not doing enough. All of these emotions add up and explain why nearly half of caregivers experience symptoms of major depression.

Physical Health

The mental and emotional strain of caregiving can translate into physical ailments stemming from changes in sleep patterns and changes to self-care and health-related routines. Caregivers are three times more likely to be highly vulnerable to health issues than non-caregivers. Compared to individuals who are not caring for an older adult, caregivers experience higher rates of physical illness including chronic pain and compromised immune systems.

This is Part Two of a three-part series.  Click here to read Part One, What it means to be a caregiver today: The data.

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