Thousands of people across Canada are currently providing some level of caregiver support to an elderly loved one, for the country’s steadily aging population. Thousands of others are actively employed as home care professionals proving care and support to seniors. Providing care for another person can be a fulfilling pursuit, but it can also be very stressful and exhausting.
How does Caregiver Stress Happen?
Caregiver stress most commonly occurs when caregivers are trying to live up to their own unreasonable expectations, or they are stuck in an undesirable situation that they feel there is no way out of. The root of this type of stress is quite often physical and emotional exhaustion. It can be very trying and draining to constantly be on the giving end of things.
This fatigue is totally understandable, as most family caregivers also have their own families, jobs, activities, and social lives to manage on top of it all. Professional caregivers can also become stressed when dealing with difficult personalities or working long hours for what seems like no appreciation or gratitude. Prolonged periods of chronic stress can have an array of harmful effects on health and wellbeing.
Health Effects of Caregiver Stress
Any long-term perpetual stress can negatively impact overall health and result in a range of health conditions. Some of the implications chronic stress can have on health, may include:
- Mental health issues
- Weight fluctuation
- Substance abuse
- Weakened immune system
- Caregiver burnout
Prolonged physical and emotional strain can have an impact on mental health. It may start out with persistent bad moods, or easily becoming irritable or agitated. The longer it goes on, it may develop into anxiety and depression.
Another effect of caregiver stress may be noticeable weight loss or weight gain. It can lead to overeating, and mainly consuming unhealthy foods which can result in obesity. Obesity opens a whole new risk for health problems. On the other hand, some people react to stress by not eating or feeling that they have no time to eat which can lead to malnutrition.
While some people turn to binge eating to alleviate stress, others turn to the use of drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse also comes with its own set of health risks from cognitive impairment to organ damage and heart disease.
Weakened Immune System
Chronic stress can have numerous harmful effects on the body including a weakened immune system. The combined effort and worry most caregivers endure takes its toll on the body, especially for individuals that are not getting enough regular, quality sleep. The body needs time to repair itself and build up immunity to germs, illness, and disease. A compromised immune system means a higher risk of developing health conditions and getting sick on a more frequent basis.
All of these factors can contribute to caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is commonly defined as a state of mental, emotional, and physical, exhaustion. It is typically caused by extended periods of high stress from the various demands and responsibilities of caregiving. The very nature of caregiving means that long-term support is going to be required. This can leave caregivers feeling overwhelmed and smothered, especially if it seems there is no end in sight and condition of the individual being cared for is continually getting worse.
Alleviating Caregiver Stress
There are several useful suggestions and tips that can help reduce stress and improve outlook and wellbeing. Some useful approaches to alleviating caregiver stress, might include:
- Focus on a healthy lifestyle
- Set achievable goals
- Use your resources
- Enlist assistance
Maintaining healthy habits is a great way to stay positive and help minimize stress. Be sure to make enough time for yourself to be able to get regular exercise, make healthy meals, get consistent quality sleep, and get out for some fun social activity. All of these lifestyle practices are essential for maintaining health and wellbeing.
Try to be realistic when setting caregiver goals. You can’t do everything, so focus on the things you are good at and the services you can provide, rather than feeling guilty about what you can’t do.
Set small attainable goals to avoid being disappointed and discouraged.
Use your Resources
Take advantage of any other family members or friends that are willing to pitch in and help. There also may be some community services and events to get involved in that can help share the responsibility and provide new opportunities.
Professional home caregivers are a family caregiver’s best resource for support and relief. Home care agencies can match your loved one with a compatible caregiver to help out with household chores, personal hygiene, meals and groceries, as well as offering a companion for activities, events, and regular social interaction.