One of the more interesting things to me about the phenomenon of caregiving is that every situation is unique, and yet its participants often share important characteristics. For example:
- They often are unprepared for the role.
- They frequently feel isolated with less time for social interaction.
- They commonly neglect self-care and are reluctant to ask for help.
Of all things shared by caregivers, however, the symptoms of chronic, long-term stress are probably the most life-altering and potentially damaging.
In a positive sense, stress—the brain’s response to any demand—is purposeful. Humans are biologically equipped to cope with stressful conditions, and this is an essential function. The stress of discomfort in freezing temperatures reminds us to dress warmly, just as the sight of an approaching train will encourage us to hurry across the track. Stress isn’t always bad, in other words.
Constant and longstanding caregiver stress, however, is not purposeful, nor is it likely to have a good outcome. It must be redirected and managed; otherwise it can seriously diminish one’s own quality of life and, in turn, can greatly reduce the quality of care that a caregiver is able to provide. The following are symptoms of caregiver stress and impending burnout:
- Cognitive – Problems with concentration, memory, decision-making, increased anxiety or negativity
- Emotional – Irritability, depression, sense of loneliness and isolation and/or feeling overwhelmed
- Physical – Increased pain, rapid heartbeat, frequent colds or flu, digestive issues
- Behavioral – Increase in nervous habits or use of substances, procrastination, isolation
If you are a caregiver and have begun to notice symptoms in one or more of the above categories, I urge you to take action today:
- Call your physician to schedule a checkup for yourself and follow the doctor’s instructions regarding rest, medications, hydration, exercise, etc.
- Begin a journal to document any change concerning yourself—your physical condition, feelings, or specific problems you are experiencing. Even a few minutes of journaling each day (and acting on changes noted in the journal, as appropriate) can help you feel more in control.
- Contact CICOA’s Caregiver Options Counselors at (317) 803-6002 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions about options for your loved one and information about caregiver self-care.
Caregiving can be stressful and can quickly lead to burnout if you are unaware of resources to help. We are here, and we care about you!