Advice by Alicia: Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress

Alicia Seaver is the Vice President of Memory Care Operations for EPOCH Senior Living and a Certified Memory Impairment Specialist. Every month, she addresses a specific issue related to memory and memory care. If you’re interested in hearing about a particular topic, please send a note to aseaver@bridgesbyepoch.com.

Q: Between being a caregiver for my mom and taking care of my kids, I’m exhausted. Something’s got to give, but I don’t know what. What are some things I can do to help catch a break?

A: Since April is National Stress Awareness Month, this is a good time to talk about caregiver stress and burnout. Caregiver stress syndrome is a very real condition that results in physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Colloquially, it’s known as “burnout,” and it occurs because caregivers are so busy caring for their loved ones, they end up burning the candle at both ends and neglecting their own health and well-being.

Here’s the hard truth: If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be a good caregiver. Period. Yes, it may seem selfish to take time to care for yourself, but when you do that, you become less stressed, you feel better, you’re healthier and you’re ultimately able to provide better care. In other words, caring for yourself is an indirect way of caring for your loved one.

Being run-down isn’t the only danger of stress and burnout. According to the Mayo Clinic, caregivers have a lot of health issues that stem from – you guessed it – stress. Here are just some of them:

  • 11% of caregivers state that their physical health has declined since stepping into the role
  • 45% of caregivers have one or more chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and others
  • Caregivers have a 23% higher level of stress hormones and 15% lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers
  • 10% of primary caregivers have some sort of physical stress that’s resulted from assisting their loved one
  • 72% of caregivers report that they have not gone to the doctor regularly
  • 58% of caregivers report that their eating habits have become worse since becoming a caregiver

Obviously, none of these things are good, which is why it’s important to know the signs of caregiver stress. If you notice more than a few of these warning signs, you’ll want to take action to find ways to reduce the stress in your life.

  • Feeling anxious, depressed or irritated
  • Being run-down and tired
  • Having difficulty sleeping (or sleeping too much)
  • Finding yourself overreacting to minor nuisances or situations
  • New health problems, or the worsening of current ones
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling resentful or angry towards your loved one or others
  • Relying on smoking, drinking or eating to help combat stress
  • Neglecting your own health
  • Withdrawing from leisure activities and hobbies

Don’t despair if you notice these signs in yourself or a loved one. Remember, you’re not alone and help is available! By understanding what caregiver stress is and how to reduce it, your quality of life – and your loved one’s quality of life – will greatly improve.

If you’ve noticed that you’re overly stressed, or if you’re simply looking for ways to reduce stress before it reaches the burnout stage, here are some things to consider:

  • Ask for help. Yes, this is hard. Yes, you should still do it. When you have a spare moment, create a list of specific, concrete ways that others can help you out. That way, when someone asks how they can help, you have ideas on hand. Plus, people are much more willing to say “yes” when there’s something specific and direct they can do.
  • Be kind to yourself. We always feel like we should be doing more or providing better care. In other words, we’re our own worst critics. Negative self-talk can have toxic effects on your overall well-being. It’s essential to give yourself grace and realize that you are only human – and that there is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. Take a moment to breathe. Realize that flaws and imperfection are a part of life. Surround yourself with positivity as much as possible. Most importantly, make a conscious effort to silence your negative thoughts.
  • Find a support group. Support groups, whether in-person or online, are some of the best places for caregivers to get connected and find caregiving resources available to them. Not only are they great sources of information, but they are also a place where real talk is actively encouraged. They can be a great way to get advice, vent frustrations or simply talk to people without fear of judgement. Bridges® by EPOCH communities offer a wonderful caregiver support group that can help you connect with others who are in similar situations, share insights and get tips to help ease your stresses and frustrations.
  • Stay connected to friends and family. Being with family and friends who provide emotional support without judgement can be an amazing boost to your morale and your mental health. Try to set some time each week to do something social, whether that’s having someone over for coffee, taking a walk with a friend or even a half-hour phone conversation with someone you care about.
  • Always laugh when you can. Laughter really is the best medicine – it’s a great tool to relieve the stress response. It’s hard to feel anxious when you’re laughing, so whenever you can, incorporate humor into daily life – even into your caregiving journey. Laughter will have the same positive effects on your loved one, as well!
  • Take care of your health and well-being. It’s well-known that eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly are all essential for your overall health. Don’t forget to visit your doctor, take your medicines and do nice things for yourself every day.

Caregiving is stressful – no two ways about it. But you are not alone, and there are people who care about you and will help in any way they can. The best gift you can give yourself is to reach out, understand when you’re feeling stressed and take steps to care for yourself … which will help you better care for your loved one, too.

Enhancing Quality of Life

Bridges® by EPOCH communities have been developed from the ground up to anticipate, meet and exceed the needs of our residents and their families. Our team of remarkable people, the exceptional care and services we offer and the purposeful design of our buildings all combine to create the most rewarding, secure and nurturing lifestyle possible for our residents.

We understand the concern families feel about ensuring quality of life for loved ones. That’s why, at Bridges® by EPOCH, we offer a wellness-centered lifestyle that focuses on reinforcing individual strength, so residents enjoy heightened confidence and self-esteem. Ultimately, we provide everything residents need to thrive and rediscover a life with purpose.

Inspiration for Success

At our Bridges® by EPOCH communities, we work closely with families to gain necessary insight and deeper understanding into the lives of our residents upon admission. With this initial information, along with what our exceptional team members learn about our residents each and every day, we are best prepared to provide highly individualized programming for our residents.

Bridges® by EPOCH is New England’s largest stand-alone memory care assisted living provider.