Caregiving comes with complex emotions and experiences. As an adult child, you are proud. Caring for your aging parent while they remain in their own home – or living in your home – has given you a sense of meaning and purpose. However, you may feel isolated, stressed and tired. You’re worried about letting your parent down and fearful about your parent’s health and happiness as their needs continue to grow.
Additionally, you may have lost your sense of self and your parent-child relationship in the role of caregiving. You may be noticing how much of your time and energy has been consumed with caregiving. Now, there is little time for the things you once enjoyed, like hobbies, activities and time with your own family. You may not be sure how to regain control of your life.
While caregiving can be a rewarding experience that can strengthen the bond between you and your family, it can also be a stressful situation to navigate. Caregiver burnout, or caregiver stress syndrome, can happen quickly if you do not monitor your own well-being. Being informed of symptoms is important for both a caregiver and the person they’re caring for.
“Caregiver education provides an understanding of what is happening and what to expect,” said Nancy Hendley-Branscomb, Dementia Care Trainer at CaringKind. “It seems to ease burnout and can lessen the burden.”
Caregiver burnout symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Feeling worried or anxious
- Increased irritability
- Feelings of resentment
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling isolated or lonely
- Chronic headaches or bodily pain
No matter if you’re new to caregiving or have been providing care to your aging parent for years, it’s never too early or too late to implement practices to minimize caregiver fatigue. As you take better care of yourself, you will find you are able to better care for your parent and those who depend on you.
10 effective ways to manage caregiver stress
- Establish boundaries
- Accept your limitations
- Ask for help – and take it
- Get organized
- Research senior care and plan ahead
- Take advantage of respite care
- Make time and space for yourself
- Take a vacation or FMLA
- Celebrate small wins
- Seek support and talk to someone who understands
For many, this is easier said than done. No one wants to say no to someone they love and respect, especially when that person has done so much for you. However, boundaries are imperative to protecting yourself and stabilizing your relationship. Boundaries can also help you honor yourself while mitigating feelings of resentment and emotional bankruptcy. It’s okay to say no to things that would put your emotional, mental and physical well-being at risk.
Accept your limitations
More often than not, caregiving for an aging parent lands on one child. As much as you may try, you cannot do everything – and attempting to do so is a one-way ticket to caregiver burnout. Discuss with your parent what you can and can’t do. Be honest and realistic about what is possible while still honoring your boundaries and maintaining a healthy relationship with your parent. Do what you’re able to do and remember to show yourself grace for what you cannot do.
Ask for help – and take it
Half the challenge of managing caregiver stress is finding help. The other half is accepting it. A recent study reported that one out of five caregivers of older adults feels alone. It’s okay to feel isolated in your role as a caregiver, but chances are you have more support than you realize. Sit down and speak with your family about the stress you’re experiencing while caregiving and ask if they can lend a helping hand. Also, look to your community for services designed to assist while you take care of your parent.
Disorganization will exacerbate caregiver stress. Getting things in order will help you realize what is possible, actualize goals and keep roles clearly defined if others are helping you or if your parent handles some aspects of their life independently. Approach caring for your aging parent in a methodical way by making lists and a separate calendar for your parent’s needs. This will help you remember appointments and meetings, as well as establishing and keeping track of caregiving goals.
Another helpful tip is to keep important documents, forms and contact information in a secure, easily accessible place. If your parent has multiple doctors, keep a notebook dedicated to their appointments so you can write down information from their physicians.
Research senior care and plan ahead
If you haven’t done so already, research what senior care options are available to you, even if you aren’t ready to utilize those resources. For example, what are your best options for assisted living communities? Which hospital would you request your parent be transported to if there was an accident? What would your parent want if they were no longer able to make decisions about their well-being?
Do your future self a favor by getting ahead of difficult conversations around the what-ifs. Know your parent’s wishes and understand your options around them. Broach the conversation of advance directives with your parent and family. Having plans in place in case of an accident or mishap will reduce your stress and anxiety.
Take advantage of respite care
Respite care is designed to provide short-term assistance to caregivers. It allows you to take a break from the demands of caregiving without having to make a long-term decision about someone else caring for your parent or family member. Look to an assisted living community in your area to provide short-term assistance.
Many families and older adults are introduced to assisted living communities through a short-term stay. And, because older adults enjoy the events, amenities and opportunities to connect with others – and families enjoy the peace of mind they experience – short-term stays often transition to a move into the community.
Make time and space for yourself
Contrary to what you may think, putting all of your excess time and energy into helping your parent is not good for either of you. As the old saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” Nearly a quarter of Americans say caregiving has made their health worse. On average, most caregivers provide about 22.3 hours of care per week to their parent or family member. Of course, those hours increase if your parent lives with you. Be intentional about addressing and taking care of your needs so you do not put your own physical and mental health at risk.
Eat well. Stay active. Dive back into hobbies and things that bring you joy. Make time to reconnect with your children, friends or spouse. Taking time for yourself may feel strange at first, and you may even have some guilt about it. It is common to lose your sense of self while caregiving, but getting back to familiar and gratifying activities is a step in the right direction to reconnect to the best version of yourself.
Take a vacation or FMLA
If you are juggling caregiving and a career, you are not alone. In fact, 61 percent of caregivers in the United States work full time. More people are taking paid time off than ever before to help manage caregiver stress while working. If you have accrued vacation hours or sick days, take that time to focus on yourself. If your employer offers FMLA, talk to your HR department about how to use this benefit.
Celebrate small wins
When managing caregiver stress, the goal is progress, not perfection. A small win could look like taking a day to yourself, firmly establishing a boundary or enjoying a dinner with your spouse or closest friends. Pat yourself on the back for each successful attempt at making time to care for yourself while caring for others.
Seek support and talk to someone who understands
The stress of caring for an aging parent can be overwhelming, especially when you feel as if you had no choice in the matter. Sometimes, simply talking about caregiving burnout to a family member or friend will temporarily help you feel better, but it does little to address larger problems. If you find yourself exhibiting signs of high stress while caring for your parent, consider counseling or support groups in your area.
“The value of support groups cannot be overestimated,” said Hendley-Branscomb.
Professional therapy, as well as conversing with those who can truly empathize with and understand your current situation, can guide you to helpful resolutions. They can help you establish boundaries, understand the emotions you may be feeling and develop personalized ways to deal with the stress of caring for an aging parent. These services could also help you facilitate more productive conversations with your parent and other family members.