Burnout and stress are typical cases in caregivers. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 40-70% of caregivers experience significant symptoms of depression.

It’s easy for caregivers to become so involved in attending to their patients that they forget their own spiritual, physical and emotional health. In some cases, this happens when help isn’t available. Stress can also occur due to pressure – some caregivers try to work for more hours to earn more.

Many caregivers also tend to feel guilty when they spend time on themselves while they could use the time to attend to their patients. Over time, this emotional pressure, together with frustrations and loneliness, leads to stress. The good thing is that it’s possible to alleviate work-related stress. Read on to learn more!

CAREGIVER ROLE

At the basic level, a caregiver is responsible for helping patients or older adults through emotional support and physical care. They can also provide support with legal and financial affairs.

Physical needs

Patients coping with chronic illness, those with disabilities, and older adults usually experience physical challenges. With the evolving nature of medical care, such people get less care from hospitals. Today, patients can get some of the help they need while at home.

In this case, caregivers take up the role of offering the assistance they need. They can help with range of motion exercises, medication management, mobility and ambulation, bathing, dressing, and feeding, and supervision for safety.

Patient needs vary from one person to another. As a caregiver, it’s vital to understand that each patient is unique.

However, you’re not always alone. Most of the care services are provided under supervision or in conjunction with a home care agency and professional physician. You can always reach out to these parties when you need help.

Practical needs

Caregivers also assist patients in the management of their everyday life. This includes tasks such as going to medical appointments, managing insurance claims, applying for disability, paying bills or making medical decisions.

In some cases, you can also oversee financial tasks with the help of the patient’s accountant or attorney. Financial tasks can be somewhat thorny, so it’s best to seek a lawyer’s guidance before handling them.

Emotional needs

When diagnosed with severe health conditions, such as cancer, patients are usually weighed down by emotional baggage. Such a point in their lives often needs a person with whom they can share their feelings.

As a caregiver, you may be the one to dry their tears, listen to their stories, and joke with them for a good laugh. The most challenging part of handling emotional needs is that they tend to occur unexpectedly. This means you must always be there when the patient feels low.

CAUSES OF CAREGIVER STRESS

As a caregiver, the demands on your emotions, body, and mind can be quite overwhelming. Even if you’re passionate and compassionate about your job, you’re likely to fall into depression unknowingly. As such, taking the time to understand the causes of stress is vital in addressing the problem.

Here are factors that can lead to caregiver stress:

• Workload - At times, working full-time as a caregiver comes with too much to do. Some caregivers hardly find enough time to rest.

• Conflicting or unreasonable demands - When working in a patient’s home, it’s easy to find yourself handling other chores and tasks outside your role as a caregiver.

• Lack of privacy - Working as a caregiver sometimes means there’s no time to be alone, particularly when a patient requires constant care.

• Isolation - It’s easy to feel isolated from your family and friends when taking care of a patient who needs constant care.

• Financial pressure - Caregivers are likely to be affected by personal financial pressure as well as the patient’s. Some even take up multiple jobs to meet their needs.

• Role confusion - When acting as a caregiver for a loved one, it can be challenging to distinguish your role as a caregiver from your role as a friend, child, lover, or spouse.

• Emotional demands- In some cases, care receivers’ conditions demand an extreme level of emotional care from caregivers.

• Unfriendly policies and procedures - When working as a caregiver for a home care agency, unfriendly policies and procedures can prevent you from discharging your duties in the best way you know.

Caregiver stress doesn’t occur overnight. You’ll likely notice some new changes or patterns in your life. For example, some symptoms include withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, poor sleep, poor appetite, weight loss, irritability, and exhaustion. It’s advisable to seek help if these symptoms are impacting your performance and work.

TIPS FOR STRESS

If you’re beginning to feel stress as a caregiver, you shouldn’t bundle it up. Over time, stress can make you ill or result in other unwanted situations. Knowing how to cope with and alleviate stress and burnout is vital.

Here is what you can do:

• Take care of your health while taking care of other people’s health is a special calling, you should remember that you also have your own health. Bear in mind that you can only take care of other people’s health needs better if your health is good.

• Remember to take breaks as needed, eat well and get enough sleep. Also, create a weekly exercise schedule to stay fit and re-energize your body. Exercising has direct stress-busting benefits that can improve your overall well-being.

• Use respite care services.  If you need a temporary break, it’s advisable to use respite care services. These programs provide short-term and time-limited breaks to primary caregivers, allowing them to rest or attend personal affairs. Taking breaks will enable you to take your mind off your everyday work demands.

• Always be realistic- Even if your work is quite demanding, it helps to be realistic. No one can predict the course of illnesses. In some cases, a patient’s condition can worsen and this will even demand more attention from you. This is usually the case with patients suffering from progressive diseases. Being open-minded and realistic means you understand and accept the nature of your work.

• Find someone to talk to. Talking to someone, such as a neighbor, loved one, co-worker, or a friend, about your frustrations and feelings, allows you to let loose your bottled-up emotions. Also, connect with your loved one’s or patient’s doctor. They can help with specific tasks, and this reduces your stress load.

• Adopt a problem-solving approach. When you get used to your work, you’re likely to see it as an endless cycle of doing the same things every day. This can lead to boredom, and eventually, stress. Instead, you need to adopt a problem-solving approach.

• Break your work into specific puzzles and tasks. For example, if bathing is stressful, try to figure out why and identify the best way to make it interesting. Always strive to find solutions to things that are problematic.

• Accept your feelings. As a caregiver, having negative feelings, such as anger and frustration, is normal. At some point, you’re likely to feel differently about your work or your patient due to pressure. Well, this doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. The best approach is accepting and controlling such feelings. After all, you’re only human.

• Build positive relationships. You’re likely to be overwhelmed - not just once, but often. That’s the nature of any job. Luckily, building positive relationships with friends, loved ones, and your patient is key to suppressing stress and negativity.

Relationships remind you that you’re cared for, too.

• Join a support group.  Be sure to find caregiving resources in your community or online and stay connected to other caregivers. This allows you to learn from other people’s experiences and remind yourself that you’re not alone.

There are classes and support groups that cover the specific disease of the patient you’re caring for. A support group can provide much-needed encouragement, inspiration and validation. You can learn specific problem-solving strategies for different challenging situations.

BECOME MORE EFFECTIVE

Being a caregiver requires different skills and qualities. You should be organized to stay on top of your daily tasks. Problem-solving and planning are also vital skills in your role. More importantly, you must always be ready to handle different situations.

Here are tips on becoming an effective caregiver:

• Always get help. Working in a patient’s home requires you to learn more about their family and their environment. Whenever you feel you need assistance, talk to the patient’s family and doctor. This can significantly improve your performance.

• Get educated. Learn as much as you can about the patient’s health condition. There are crash courses on different diseases you can easily complete online. You should also seek out information from nurses and physicians. The more you learn, the better.

• Take care of yourself. Over time, you’re likely to become mentally and physically unwell. So, be sure to take care of yourself by taking time off, getting enough sleep and engaging in exercises. You need to find the perfect balance between your life and your caregiver role.

• Be patient. The role of a caregiver demands lots of patience. You should be able to understand the patient’s limitations, movement, behavior and attitude. Whatever their needs, it’s essential to be patient to cope with their situation and deliver the help they need.

• Be compassionate. Compassion is also a valuable attribute of a caregiver. You should be able to sympathize with a patient’s situation and experiences. Getting into caregiving is a selfless act, so you should strive to do it from the heart.

• Must be committed. As noted before, caregiving involves a lot of different tasks, from reading and feeding to washing and bathing. Handling these tasks effectively requires commitment. Understanding that will even make the job a lot easier.

• Build trust. When providing intimate care to patients, they must trust you. At first, some might not want to be helped in certain tasks. However, they will accept your assistance once they trust you. Also, you should trust your ability to offer the care they need. Caregiving can be frightening in some cases - having the courage to trust yourself is what matters.

• Rethink personal boundaries. In caregiving, topics and activities that seem taboo can impact your ability to care for the patient. For example, bathing and helping patients with their toilet needs make some patients feel embarrassed. In this case, strive to have an open and candid conversation. Let them communicate their feelings to you, and remind them that you’re there to help.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all guidebook for becoming an effective caregiver. Every person’s experience is different, and patients also have unique needs. Your ability to take the time to understand your patient, their needs, and their environment is what matters.

TAKEAWAYS

Being a caregiver is a tremendous role – helping others through their health needs is rewarding. Bear in mind that caregiving can be informal or formal. Most Americans usually provide care to their parents or loved ones at home.

Whether the patient is your loved one or not, caregiving usually takes a toll on you, particularly if the patient needs constant care. It’s possible to feel anger and frustrations resulting in mild to chronic stress. If ignored, stress can affect your feelings, behavior, and thoughts.

Remember, you’re never alone. So, when the work seems overwhelming, it’s advisable to reach out to friends, physicians, and support groups for assistance. Always be organized, and be sure to take time for yourself. More importantly, take care of your health by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising.

AVAILABLE THROUGH AITKIN COUNTY CARE

Respite services based on your needs

Support groups

Memory support group

First Wednesday of the month – 1:15 p.m., meeting virtually

Caregiver support group

Last Monday of the month – 11 a.m. starting April 26, meeting

virtually

Call Aitkin County CARE for more information and to sign up.   218-927-1383

or 877-810 - 7776.

CARE can also help you learn how to use Zoom!

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