2020 has been quite a year! From political drama to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are a nation struggling to manage stress. News reports show negative behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, are on the rise. When you are caring for a loved one with declining health, the days can be even more tumultuous. Finding productive ways to manage caregiver stress is essential, especially when you are a caregiver.

As we head toward a new year, it’s a good time to learn more about caregiver stress and explore positive ways to reduce it.

Warning Signs of Caregiver Stress

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, more adults are stepping into the caregiver role. As the average age of our population continues to rise, the number of family caregivers climbs with it. In fact, nearly 39.8 million adults in this country are caregivers for a friend or family member. That equates to almost 16% of the adult population.

An unfortunate consequence is caregivers are more likely to suffer a medical crisis of their own. Oftentimes, it is because they miss the warning signs of burnout. If you are a caregiver, review these common signals that indicate you need to make changes:

  • Overwhelming anxiety
  • Unintended weight gain or loss
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Stomachaches or other digestive problems
  • Change in personality or disposition
  • Fatigue that doesn’t improve with quality sleep
  • Quick to anger or tearfulness
  • Backaches and headaches
  • Developing or escalating unhealthy habits (i.e., smoking or drinking)
  • Losing touch with family, friends, social groups, and favorite hobbies

If these symptoms describe your current situation, it’s likely time to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. They can perform a physical examination to assess your physical and mental well-being and offer suggestions for getting healthy.

Preventing and Managing Caregiver Stress

If you haven’t reached the point of caregiver burnout but know you need to make changes, these tips can help.

  1. Practice mindfulness: Science shows meditation, yoga, or similar activities that focus on good breathing and mindfulness can help you manage stress and anxiety. Taking even ten minutes to perform chair yoga or meditate can help you maintain better health. Apps like Calm and 10% Happier make it easier to meditate or practice yoga on the go.
  2. Eat well: Eating healthy usually takes more time than relying on convenience or fast foods. For busy caregivers, preparing healthy meals often seems impossible. Even grocery shopping can be a challenge. A home-delivered meal service, like Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, or Freshly, might be a solution. Another option is to sign up for a local grocery store’s home delivery program or a national service, like Shipt. These options will save you time and provide fresh, healthy foods on a regular basis.
  3. Exercise: When you are tired and busy, exercise might not be a priority. However, engaging in a regular fitness program can actually improve your energy level and promote better sleep. While physicians usually recommend thirty minutes of exercise a day, you can break it up into smaller blocks. For example, begin your day with ten minutes of Pilates or yoga, take a brisk, ten-minute walk at lunch, and finish the day with ten minutes of resistance bands or stretching.
  4. Say “no”: Setting realistic expectations is important for all of us, but especially for caregivers. Give yourself permission to say “no” to activities you don’t have time for right now. Whether it’s coordinating a fundraiser at your church or synagogue or organizing the class reunion, remind yourself it’s okay to say “no” and focus on your family.
  5. Talk about or journal your feelings: Getting your feelings out can help you work through difficulties. Some people find it helpful to join an online caregiver support group. Others say journaling before bed helps them work through the emotional and physical demands of the day.
  6. Explore assisted living: If caregiver stress is putting your own health at risk, it might be time to consider assisted living. These communities allow residents to enjoy their best quality of life. From medication management programs to an environment designed with safety in mind, it’s worth exploring.

Bookmark the Heritage Blog

If you are a caregiver looking for ways to manage this demanding role, we encourage you to bookmark and visit this blog often. It’s an easy way to stay on top of trends and new research on aging, dementia, caregiving, and senior living.