What is Caregiver Stress?
As a family caregiver, we acknowledge the immense pressure and stress you face on a daily basis. From caregiving and work issues to managing relationships, finances, and medical concerns, your responsibilities are overwhelming. Even when you try to relax, it often only adds to your stress. We've heard it time and time again - you don't have time for self-care or the means to seek help. Your family offers little support, and when they do, it often creates more work for you. Planning anything becomes nearly impossible as things constantly fall through. This chronic stress takes a toll on your health, perpetuating the cycle of stress.
What is Caregiver Burden?
Caregiver burden refers to the stress experienced by caregivers in the context of home care. This subjective burden is known to have significant negative effects. It occurs when caregivers view their home care situation in a negative light. It's important to note that caregivers often lack training and find caring to be a major challenge, requiring a significant amount of adaptation.
The burden experienced by caregivers can be influenced by various aspects of the care situation, such as lack of recovery time, challenging behavior of the person requiring care, limited social activities, and a sense of sadness over the supported person's situation. Studies have shown that four aspects in particular are highly burdensome on caregivers: the energy expended in care, the desire for personal recovery, insufficient time for their own interests, and the emotional distress caused by the fate of the person they support. This burden can also have a negative impact on the caregiver's overall health and well-being.
Research comparing the health of caregivers to non-caregiving relatives has found that while caregivers may not be significantly physically less healthy, they do report higher rates of depressive symptoms, indicating a negative effect on their mental health. However, these studies have not fully considered the impact of subjective burden. Another study has also shown high rates of depression and anxiety among caregivers of adults with epilepsy. Further analysis has revealed that subjective burden is a key predictor of caregiver health.
It has been found that caregiving spouses may have an increased risk of mortality, but only if they feel burdened by the care situation. Thus, it is not the act of providing home care itself that poses a risk, but rather the subjective burden that accompanies it. Interestingly, when not considering caregiver burden, the mortality rate of caregivers is actually slightly lower than that of non-caregivers.
Caregiver stress and burden and caregiving styles
In terms of caregiving style, individuals experiencing caregiver burden may display a wide range of behaviors toward the person they care for, ranging from loving devotion to abusive behavior in the form of neglect or mistreatment. Verbal aggression is the most common form of abusive behavior, often resulting from the challenging behavior of the care recipient. Research has shown that individuals experiencing caregiver burden are more likely to display abusive behavior and other negative caregiving styles toward the person they care for, compared to those who do not experience caregiver burden.
The emotional roller coaster ride of caregiving
Most caregivers are so busy caring for another… they actually become angry and resentful. When they are told that need stress management and the importance of self-care, many shut down. They do now want to hear this information.
Unfortunately… we only realize how stressed we are… when we are not stressed, and in a state of complete tranquility and calmness.
“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.” — Mandy Hale
What exactly is stress? It's a term we hear all the time, but let's break it down.
Stress is your body's response to something called a stressor. This can be an internal (psychological) or external (environmental) situation or condition.
While stress is often associated with negative medical and emotional issues like heart attacks and mental illnesses, not all stress is bad. There is such a thing as good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress).
Good stress is when you experience positive emotions or mild stressors. It actually activates your body, making you more alert and focused. Your memory even improves. It's like your body's way of getting ready to fight.
Distress, on the other hand, is negative stress. It occurs when stressors are aggressive and persistent. This chronic stress can slow down your thinking processes and diminish your sense of humor.
Chronic negative stress puts strain on your heart, can cause headaches and ulcers. It's not something you can turn into positive stress, but you can definitely control it.
As a caregiver, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and like you don't have time or energy for stress management or self-care. But taking care of yourself is important and not impossible. You just have to get creative.
Importance of monitoring stress levels
Let's clarify what exactly stress is and its impact on our bodies. Stress is the body's response to a stressor, which can be either internal (psychological) or external (environmental). While stress is commonly associated with negative medical and emotional conditions, not all stress is bad.
There are two types of stress: good stress (eustress) and bad stress (distress). Good stress occurs when we experience positive emotions or mild stressors, activating our bodies to help cope with everyday challenges. It enhances alertness, focus, and even memory. On the other hand, distress happens when daily stressors are aggressive and persistent, leading to a decline in thinking processes and a loss of humor.
Chronic negative stress can have serious health consequences such as heart strain, headaches, and ulcers. Fortunately, you can control distress, even though it may seem overwhelming. As caregivers, it's common to feel alone and overwhelmed, but self-care is essential and achievable with a little creativity.
Remember, stress management and self-care should not be neglected. Take the time to prioritize your well-being and find support, because you don't have to face stress alone.
Monitor your stress levels weekly, if not more
You are not alone.
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