According to the Caregiver Action Network, more than 65 million people provide care to an aging, disabled or chronically ill loved one in the United States. This number represents 29 percent of the entire population who spend upwards of 20 hours per week on caregiving duties. While caring for a loved one can be rewarding to all those involved, caregivers often face more daily stressors than the average American.
How Common is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
One in three family caregivers report their stress levels are higher than average, and these high levels of stress often lead to caregiver stress syndrome. Caregiver stress syndrome occurs when caregiving duties have become overwhelming and take over the individual’s entire life. They miss out on work, which could lead to financial struggles and activities they previously enjoyed. The compounding issues of caregiver stress can lead to caregiver burnout. Some of the most common signs of caregiver stress syndrome include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling resentful or out of character
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Withdrawing socially
Caregiver Burnout Symptoms to Know
Caregivers often feel very much in control of the care they’re providing their loved one. They keep loved ones on schedule with medications, take them to doctor appointments and assist them with activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing. However, staying so focused on their loved one’s needs usually leads to being less in control of their own lives and overall health. This puts them at serious risk of caregiver stress syndrome that could lead to caregiver burnout. And, once an individual is experiencing burnout, their health can easily become compromised. When caregivers aren’t feeling well, they aren’t able to continue to provide the care their loved ones need to thrive.
Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout allows caregivers to make the proper adjustments to their lifestyle to ensure they’re staying in the best health possible. These symptoms include:
- Extreme mood swings. Feeling out of character, or feeling happy one minute and extremely irritated the next is a common caregiver burnout symptom. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster, and if you aren’t treating your feeling of anxiety or depression seriously, you won’t be able to provide the care your loved one needs.
- A compromised immune system. Does it seem like every time someone in your household or immediate proximity is sick, you end up sick, too? Stress can also take a toll on your immune system, and your body is trying to tell you to pay attention.
- Chronic exhaustion. Caregivers often don’t get enough sleep, especially when they are dealing with a loved one with Sundowner’s Syndrome, a form of confusion and agitation which is common in people who suffer from dementia. Do you, the caregiver still feel out of it, even after a good night’s sleep? These feelings of exhaustion can lead to a lack of empathy or the inability to find joy in anything you do.
- Feeling hopeless and helpless. You might simply feel like there’s no end in sight to your caregiving duties, that they are taking over your entire life.
- Neglecting health and wellness activities. Most caregivers recognize the importance of staying active, both physically and socially, but feel like they simply cannot make time in their day for these types of activities. Carving some time out for exercise and yourself may help you feel better and boost your mood.
- Difficulty relaxing even when receiving help. Perhaps family or friends have offered to help out for a few hours, but the caregiver may have difficulty relinquishing control over their loved one’s care, even for a short time. This level of irritability demonstrates burn out. In this case, although it’s hard, it’s okay to give permission to accept some help when you need it—on your terms.
Caregivers often get so immersed in their caregiving duties that they may not even realize how high their stress levels have become. It’s important to remember to take a step back and set some time aside for yourself, even if it’s only for a half an hour each day. Or, it could be time to consider alternative options, like moving your loved one to an assisted living community, where they are guaranteed to receive the level of care and assistance they need for the best quality of life.