By Kathy Bosworth
More than one quarter of
the adult population (26.6%) has provided care for a
chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or
friend during the past year. Based on current
data, that translates into more than 50 million
people! Sixty-one percent of “intense”
caregivers (those providing at least 21 hours of
care a week) have suffered from depression.
Heavy-duty caregivers, especially spousal
caregivers, do not get consistent help from other
family members. One study has shown that as
many as three fourths of these caregivers are “going
it alone.” Is it any surprise that
caregiver stress or burnout is becoming a critical
Dealing with stress is not a new concept.
None of us have immunity from the challenges of
getting through life with the least amount of
stress. Some people drink, over eat, smoke,
bite their nails, yell at the cat, or retreat inside
themselves when the going gets too tough. I’m
sure you have your own ways of protecting yourself
from the ravages of stress. I have often
thought my cat has the right idea when stress enters
her life. After one loud meow and an angry
swish of her tail, she retreats to another room to
take a nice long two-hour snooze. Bamm!
The stress is gone. Unfortunately, people do
not have the same luxury.
Are you caught in the web of stress while being a
caregiver? In the book, “Living with Stroke”,
there is an interesting section on stroke stress
analysis. People list nine sentences that sum
up all the different ways that stress exhibits
itself in families of stroke survivors. Do any
of these ring a bell with you?
Panic “Ohmigod, I can’t handle this.”
Anxiety “What if he needs
me in the middle of the night and I can’t hear
Denial that leads to over-optimism
“Oh, he’ll be fine. He just needs to come
Irritability and Anger “It’s
all the rehabilitation team’s fault.”
Frustration “I can’t
stand one more thing going wrong!”
Fatigue “I’m utterly,
completely exhausted from the experience.”
Hopelessness and helplessness “What’s the
use? Nothing’s going to change.”
Guilt “How can I be so angry at him?
It’s not fair.”
Ambivalence “I don’t know how I
feel anymore. I can’t make a decision about
If you are a caregiver, I’m sure you find
yourself nodding your head at more than a few of
these stress indicators. I often say that
caregiving is not something that people plan on or
sign up for. It is a situation that sort of
plops itself in your lap, totally unexpected.
Caregivers are usually overwhelmed, untrained, and
uneducated in the beginning. With time comes a
sense of control that can help you through.
Being out of control in any situation can knock a
person off balance. Don’t be too hard on
yourself as you muddle through this. You are a
rookie now, but you are getting some heavy
Here are some tips that I have found to be
helpful in getting your life in balance again.
When well-meaning people offer to help,
accept their help. Be specific in things
you could use help with. Now is not
the time to show the world how strong you are.
You will only burn out quicker without
Watch out for signs of depression.
Get professional help if you need to.
Educate yourself about your loved one’s
condition. Information is empowering!
Trust your gut feelings. I’m a firm
believer in our innate instincts. If
something sounds out of whack to you, keep
asking questions until you are satisfied that
the best care is being administered.
Find other caregivers to connect with.
There are many caregiver websites and support
groups that can be found. If there are
none in your area, start your own.
Believe me, you need somebody to talk to that
understands what you are going through..
Be kind to yourself. Even if you only
take a ten-minute walk around the block to
alleviate some stress, DO IT. A caregiver
with a lower stress level makes a much better
caregiver. Getting enough sleep, exercise,
and eating balanced meals reduces stress.
If you are caring for a parent and have
siblings, be vocal about what they can do to
help. Some people are not comfortable with
the day-to-day care but they might be willing
to grocery shop for you, pick up meds, or do a
doctor’s run or two. Don’t be a martyr.
Your emotional health cannot take it. Face
it and get on with it.
Take charge of your life and continue to do
things that you find relaxing or pleasurable.
If a loved one’s disability always takes center
stage instead of your needs, you will become a
resentful caregiver. Not good for anyone.
Write down things to keep your head
uncluttered. Having ongoing lists of medications
your loved one is taking will not only
alleviate the stress of trying to remember
what and when, but it is also a valuable tool
when visiting the doctor. It’s all written
out and accessible. Doctors are often
rushed and cannot wait around while you try to
remember which meds are causing what side
effects, etc. Keep it simple and easy on
yourself in ways that you can.
Keep your sense of humor. It’s the
most important tool you have and it’s free.
Humor can be found in the most surprising
places, even hospitals and nursing homes.
Laughter is good for the soul.
Know your limitations! Don’t let
guilt get in the way of making the best decision
for your family member and yourself. Not
everyone can be a caregiver no matter how good
their intentions might be. If you
cannot be a caregiver due to an emotional,
physical, financial or locational burden, you do
have choices. You cannot help another if
you yourself need help. The medical
needs might warrant the need for assisted
living or long term care. If you
must find alternative living arrangements, make
sure they are ones you can live with and serve
the best interest of your loved one! Stay
involved and vigilant that the care remains
Caregiving is a huge responsibility.
Keeping the caregiver healthy— physically,
mentally, and emotionally — is vital. Try
to find the right balance in your life that
allows you to care for your loved one while
caring for yourself.
Other helpful websites for caregivers:
Caregiver Alliance: www.caregiver.org
National Family Caregivers Association: www.nfcacares.org
National Alliance for Caregiving: www.caregiving.org
Today’s Caregiver: www.caregiver.com
Kathy Bosworth is the author of “Your Mother has
Suffered a Slight Stroke.” See
Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter