Getting stuck in a cycle of overwhelming days and restless nights may be quite common in our driven culture, but that doesn’t mean this way of living is reasonable or negligible. You may be able to normalize this kind of lifestyle in your mind, but it will wear you down and create greater consequences over time.
Caregivers often have an even harder time separating their own needs from those of the aging adult in their care and figuring out how to address the stress and prevent future burnout. But with a fresh perspective and compassionate assistance, you can set yourself on a new course for health and empowered service. Here, you’ll find a simple caregiver stress test and some suggestions and links to real help and resources.
The Caregiver Stress Test
Be willing to set aside 15 minutes or so—when you can focus all of your attention on the present moment and the present task—to sit down with these questions. Open your mind and your heart to your own need for fulfillment and care. Consider these questions one at a time. You may notice quick, reactionary answers arising. That’s okay; embrace your depth and be willing to ask the question of yourself again, inviting the most authentic answers you can access.
You may simply give your attention to the questions, making a mental note of your “yes” and “no” responses. You may also write your answers down for reference. If you have more time to spend, it can be incredibly helpful to note whether the answers are “yes” or “no” and also to write down some of the more detailed thoughts and feelings that arise.
- Are there things you no longer take part in that you used to enjoy in your free time?
- Are you experiencing frequent illness or any other physical symptoms that you can’t account for?
- Are you becoming increasingly impatient with your aging loved one?
- Do you have an aging adult’s needs on your mind even when you’re off the clock?
- Are you finding yourself more often sad, exhausted, angry, or reactive than you used to be?
- Is it unlikely, difficult, or uncharacteristic for you to ask for help?
The Caregiver Stress Scale
If you answered “yes” to just 1 or 2 of these questions, you’re in a good position to head off your stress before it gets out of hand.
If you answered “yes” to 3 or 4 of these questions, it’s time to look very closely at the way caregiving is impacting your life overall. A combination of the following ideas and solutions may be the best way to find well-rounded support as you set in motion new routines and a new way of looking at your own needs.
If you answered “yes” to 5 or 6 of these questions, it may be time to take a step back from caregiving to focus more fully on your own needs. This doesn’t have to mean that you stop what you’re doing, but there are ways to get respite that allows you space away from caregiving responsibilities. If your own health and wellness are suffering, you won’t be at your best for yourself or for your aging loved one.
Caregiver stress syndrome is not something to be brushed aside. It must be a priority because it can pose serious consequences to your physical, mental, and emotional health—and that of the aging adult in your care. While it’s easy to ignore the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout—focusing so intently on your caregiving and other responsibilities—denial and self-neglect will make your condition only worse. Giving your attention to this caregiver stress assessment tool is an important first step. Coming to a place of compassion for your needs is the next step. Read on for real solutions to this manageable situation.
How to Address Caregiver Stress Syndrome
Just like with any significant relationship in your life, you must be able to distinguish between your role as a caregiver and who you are as an individual. That path back to yourself will be a unique one, but there are some suggestions and resources that can be universally valuable among caregivers who are looking for greater personal balance and well-being.
These suggested steps and resources can help you to address not only the symptoms of caregiver burnout but also the causes at the root of your stress:
- Share caregiving responsibilities: How will you even approach any of these steps if you have no time to do so? One of the most important actions to take will always be to accept your need for some help and reach out for it. Here, you’ll find tips on family caregiving and how to ask for that help. Alternatively, there are many ways to tap into professional caregiving assistance: regular in-home care, regular on-site day programs for older adults to attend, and even respite care that is designed to give you a much-needed break.
- Prioritize your health: Whether you are due for a check-up or not, make an appointment to see your doctor and get a general health assessment. Discuss with them your concerns about the stress you’ve been experiencing and your desire to turn your health and life in a more positive direction. Take notes on any suggestions they may have for you. Choose certain health and wellness goals that you’d like to prioritize. Perhaps you’d like to start a new exercise or meal routine to help you feel energized and cared for. Or perhaps you’d like to prioritize longer, better quality sleep each night—and discovering the necessary steps to achieving that goal.
- Seek therapeutic attention: One transformative approach to caregiver challenges is to consult with a professional who can help you to see the bigger picture and the ways in which you’re neglecting your self-care. This may proceed as individual counseling or as caregiver family therapy to address the family system dynamics at play.
- Get on-going community support: While isolation is often a resulting symptom of caregiver burnout, the truth is that you are not alone. In fact, you can discover a powerful source of support by connecting with others who struggle with similar burdens. Here, you can find out more about in-person caregiver support groups, as well as online support groups. Committing to attending these nurturing groups is an important step toward self-care. On-going community support can also come in the form of talking to family and friends with whom you feel open and supported.
- Honor what nourishes you: Make a list of some of the things you love to do and the people you’d like to spend more time with. Without attempting to do everything at once and compound your stress, choose one or two activities to add to your weeks on a regular basis. Always keep in mind that these new efforts are for your well-being and your personal fulfillment, so continue to evaluate whether your holistic state is improving or whether there are small steps you could add or revise to continue empowering yourself.
- Schedule regular you time: No matter which of these other solutions you move forward with, do carve out at least some personal time for yourself every single day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes in the morning or before bed at night, be willing to dedicate that time to be present with yourself. Maybe you spend that time tuning into your feelings and experiences, reflecting and journaling, or doing something fun just for you, such as refreshing yoga and meditation.
Transform Your Caregiver Stress into the Life You Want
Taking this caregiver burnout quiz may be a simple process, but it will have wide-reaching benefits if you can tune into your needs and the fact that you don’t have to do it all on your own. Your aging loved one’s happiness and well-being are important, and so are yours. Any time is a good time to reset your cycle of overwhelm and burnout, and kick start a fulfilling daily existence. The answers to these pressing questions are there if you listen for them, and they can lead you on the right path.
At Institute on Aging, we understand caregiver stress. Our commitment is not just empowering aging adults to live with grace and dignity but also to empowering caregivers in a similar way. We offer services and resources that are just a phone call away.