What is caregiver stress?

September 21st, 2016

by Laura Futransky

You never miss an appointment. You have his medication list memorized and know just how to cheer him up when nobody else can. But who’s taking care of you… To be at your best as a caregiver/spouse/child/parent/partner/human being it’s essential to be aware of how the stress of caregiving can take a toll on your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual well being. You must be proactive in taking care of yourself.

A particular kind of anguish

The challenges of caregiving are multi-layered and complexed. Watching a loved one in pain and not being able to do anything to relive their pain can be anguish. A loved one’s decline raises existential question about one own’s mortality and questions of why now and why them. What do you do with those feelings? Caregivers might feel undeserving of complaints when they aren’t the one experiencing physical pain, illness, or disability, yet the pain of watching a loved one suffer is an immense burden to carry alone.

Contradictory Emotions

Providing care for an ill loved one can bring up many complicated and sometimes contradicting emotions. These thoughts and feelings may be difficult to express and understand. While caregiving is an act of love it’s not uncommon to feel anger, resentment, disgust and frustration at times. Caregivers often feel guilty about any “negative” feelings that come up for them; therapy can be a safe space to explore all sorts of feelings and thoughts that come up for a caregiver.

This would be easier… in a vacuum

Taking care of a loved one can be all consuming, but we often have other work, family and other commitments to tend to while providing care. Caregiving can bring up conflicting priorities and challenge our values. We can’t do it all, something has got to give, but it doesn’t have to be your health and sanity. Therapy can be a place to problem solve with an unbiased observer to help you spend your time doing what is most valuable and creating space for new possibilities.

And all that other “stuff”

Caregiving can shine a spotlight on other issues you’ve been struggling with – or ignoring. Has balancing work and family life always been a challenge? When you add a seriously ill family member in the mix it can shine the light on lifelong struggles. Old solutions that used to let you skate by may not work anymore. Caregiving for a parent who wasn’t always the most supportive can bring up many complicated emotions. The most functional, balanced and mindful person may still be thrown into chaos by the emotional, physical and time strain of caregiving. How caregiving responsibilities are shared (or not shared) by other members of your family can be a sensitive and highly charged topic. Therapy can help clients clearly communicate their needs to other family members in hopes of finding an equitable solution.

Self Care

Taking care of yourself will help you do your job better as a caregiver yet it often falls to the bottom of our lists. Self care can take many forms including: getting exercise, talking to friends and family, taking a break from caregiving duties, scheduling pleasurable activities. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety and other challenging emotions around caregiving therapy might be helpful for you. Carving out one hour of the week devoted to taking care of yourself is an essential practice of self care.

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