January 20, 2020

Being a caregiver to an aging parent or family member is a supreme act of love and kindness. It’s one of the most gracious and generous things you can do — but it’s also hard to deny that serving as a family caregiver can also bring some intense feelings, including stress, exhaustion, and guilt. 

Research suggests that there are more than 43 million unpaid family caregivers in America, looking after senior loved ones. Many of these caregivers also fall into what is known as the “Sandwich Generation,” meaning that they share the dual load of caring for their aging parents and younger kids, at the same time. 

Being a caregiver means keeping many balls juggling in the air at once. It’s about providing emotional support and love, while also looking after many moving parts and little details — from paying the bills, to giving rides all over town, to assisting with housekeeping, to helping the senior with hygiene, grooming, and other activities of daily living (ADLs). It’s a lot to keep in balance, and it’s no surprise why so many caregivers feel pulled in many different directions at once. 

In fact, studies have shown that caregivers are incredibly susceptible to stress and burnout. According to research cited by Today’s Caregiver

  • 16% of caregivers say that they are “emotionally strained,” and 26% “state that taking care of their loved one is hard on them emotionally”
  • Caregivers experience stress hormones at a 23% higher level than non-caregivers
  • 72% of caregivers state that they do not go to the doctor “as often as they should,” and 58% of caregivers say that “their eating habits are worse than before they assumed this role”
  • 30-40% of dementia caregivers suffer from “both depression and emotional stress”

As a loving and supportive caregiver, it’s only natural to want to take on more and more on behalf of your aging loved ones. However, piling everything onto your own shoulders can only lead to problems, in time. In addition to emotional drain and stress, caregivers also tend to report experiencing physical pain and chronic illness. As reporting from the Mayo Clinic notes, caregivers may be so focused on others that they “don’t realize that [their] own health and well-being are suffering,” leading to negative symptoms like lack of sleep, headaches, poor diet, frustration, and sadness. 

At the same time, many caregivers often feel like they have to take on all of these challenges and stressors alone. Guilt is an incredibly common emotion among family caregivers — guilt about not doing more, guilt about not being present for friends and family, guilt about not being enough, guilt about wanting to reach out for help… The list goes on. 

As clinical psychologist, family therapist and healthcare consultant Barry J. Jacobs once put it for AARP

“…guilt is an ever-present emotion for many family caregivers for a variety of reasons: Because of what we haven’t done for our ailing loved ones. Because of what we did, which we think was inadequate. Because we still can function physically and cognitively in ways in which they are no longer capable. A little guilt along these lines probably makes us more sensitive and attentive. But too much of it torments us and saps all possible joy.”

As Jacobs also notes, guilt “usually is joined by other challenging emotions,” including anger, depression, and grief. It’s a complicated cycle, which can lead to even more stress and emotional weight in time.

Family caregivers do so much, for so many. They deserve to break free from this restrictive cycle of stress, burnout, and guilt for the sake of their own quality of life and well-being, and for their loved one’s health and peace of mind. Of course, moving forward this way is often more easily said than done. 

Fortunately, there are many small, manageable steps that family caregivers can take to start achieving balance, so that they can carve out time for themselves, get the help they need, and still ensure that their loved ones are safe, secure, and healthy. 

Here are some ideas for caregivers managing stress and guilt:

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out For Help.

Caregivers deserve to be cared for, too. Remember, you do not have to go through it all alone! There are countless resources out there that can make life easier for yourself and for your elderly loved ones, waiting for you to reach out. Depending on where you live, your options may run the gamut. 

You could turn to friends and family nearby for emotional support, or get engaged neighbors and family members more involved in providing care. There are also many local service providers — from discount food delivery, to laundry, to banks, to doctors — that offer in-home services that can help streamline things for yourself and your loved one. Look for caregiver support groups in your area, or join a forum or message board online. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a licensed therapist or social worker, or even a trusted advisor or friend you can turn to for guidance. 

Finally, remember that a professional senior companion or caregiver may be able to step in and help. Respite care is a flexible, affordable care option, designed to give your loved one the support they need to live independently in the comfort of home, while giving you time for work, family, or travel. Respite care can help give family caregivers the much-needed opportunity to rest, recharge, and come back to caregiving feeling renewed — while feeling confident that their loved ones are still receiving the friendship and service they need to thrive. 

Set Limits.

While you may want to be Superman, it’s important to realize that no caregiver can ever truly be everywhere, all the time. It’s important to set limits and boundaries, rather than running yourself ragged trying to be everywhere for everyone. It may help to write out a list of priorities, so that you can determine what matters most to you, and build your schedule accordingly. Sticking to boundaries can also help give you back time and peace of mind. For instance, you may be more comfortable having a professional caregiver assist your senior relative with grooming, bathing, and going to the bathroom — giving you the emotional space and distance to rebuild your bond with your family member as a loved one, rather than just someone in your care. 

Look for the Joy In Caregiving.

There is always a silver lining, especially when it comes to caregiving. When life starts to feel hectic and overwhelming, it helps to take a step back, breathe, and focus on the positive things. Look for the moments and memories that bring you joy and peace, no matter how small they may seem. A loved one’s laugh,, seeing a granddaughter bond with her grandmother: all of these are moments to be treasured. 

At the same time, try to stay centered and realistic. Set manageable goals, and don’t berate yourself if you fall short. There will always be ups and downs. While it may be tempting to always focus on what you’re doing wrong, you’d be amazed by how good it can feel when you call out and celebrate the little victories and bright spots that also define the incredible act of caregiving. When feelings of anger, sadness, stress or guilt do come up, try to practice acceptance, and remember that these negative things aren’t who you are. As Today’s Caregiver puts it: 

“Once you put it into words, you will have a new perspective. You will also be reminding yourself of how fortunate you are to have what it takes to take care of loved one.”

Make Time for Yourself.

As a family caregiver, it can be easy to always feel like you need to put the focus on others. Over time, putting off your own health and happiness can really wear you down — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Moving forward, take steps to protect yourself and make the most of your personal time. 

This could be as simple as dedicating time to restorative, enjoyable pursuits that can let you get your mind off caregiving for a bit. Block off opportunities to do what you love, whether that means hiking, yoga, painting, birdwatching, going to the movies, or cooking a sumptuous meal. You could also try to keep a more balanced social schedule, making time for friends or family by giving over some of your caregiving responsibilities to a professional senior companion. 

Many caregivers also forego their own health, putting off doctor’s appointments and avoiding exercise. For this reason, the Mayo Clinic advises caregivers to “set personal health goals,” which could include getting more sleep, drinking plenty of water, or adopting healthier eating habits. 

Practice Patience, Compassion, and Empathy — For Yourself.

Looking after an aging loved one trains caregivers to be empathetic, compassionate, and patient. Caring for the elderly means learning how to be a better communicator, a more active listener, and a more giving friend. Unfortunately, many caregivers don’t apply these same principles in their own lives! 

Be kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself, and give yourself as much grace and leeway as you would anyone else. Look at the big picture, accept your mistakes as they come and go, and try not to beat yourself up. It’s important to accept that you’re human and may experience difficulties, while also celebrating your successes. As Today’s Caregiver puts it: 

“Cloudy moods, like cloudy days, come and go. There’s no one way a caregiver should feel.  When you give yourself permission to have any feeling, and recognize that your feelings don’t control your actions, your guilt will subside.”

Looking for Help? Companions for Seniors Is Here

If you have any further questions about taking care of yourself as a family caregiver, or want to learn more about the amazing benefits of respite care for seniors and their loved ones, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors. We’re here and happy to be your sounding board as you and your loved ones prepare to transition into a new phase of your journey together.

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

While helping seniors maintain a higher quality of life, we also hope to provide greater peace of mind for family caregivers who may need some support of their own. 

We are locally owned in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs. All of our companions are trained and bonded, and can assist your loved one in many different ways, including providing assistance with activities of daily living, meal preparation, housekeeping, transportation services, and more.

From one hour to 24 hours a day, we can be there for you and your loved one. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.

Want to make more time for yourself? Ready to help your senior loved one enjoy the benefits of respite care? To get started, fill out our convenient online form or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today.