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Caregivers Need Care Too: Tips on Managing Caregiver Stress

Manage stress
Stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi, which teach inner balance and relaxation, are helpful for caregivers.

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"That 20 minute walk in the fresh air with my best friend was just what I needed."

"At lunch I turn off my phone and email and shut the door. Then I close my eyes and enjoy the quiet for 15 minutes. It's wonderful."

Just 15-20 minutes here and there each day when you can focus on yourself will make a world of difference in managing your caregiver stress.  According to a new Home Instead Senior Care survey, 55 percent  of the family caregivers that eventually employed their professional caregiving services appeared to have above average or significant levels of stress as they came on board. But it doesn't have to be that way.

These tips are recommended while taking care of an aging loved one:

  • Work out: Exercise and enjoy something you like to do (walking, dancing, biking, running, swimming, etc.) for a minimum of 20 minutes at least three times per week. Consider learning a stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi, which teach inner balance and relaxation.
  • Meditate: Sit still and breathe deeply with your mind as "quiet" as possible whenever things feel like they are moving too quickly or you are feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities as a caregiver. Many times you will feel like you don't even have a minute to yourself, but it's important to walk away and to take that minute.
  • Ask for help: According to a national survey by Home Instead Senior Care of adults who are currently providing care for an aging loved one, 72 percent do so without any outside help. To avoid burnout and stress, you can enlist the help of other family members and friends, and/or consider hiring a professional non-medical caregiver for assistance. There is no need to feel guilty for reaching out.
  • Take a break: Make arrangements for any necessary fill-in help (family, friends, volunteers or professional caregivers). Take single days or even a week's vacation. And when you're away, stay away. Talk about different things, read that book you haven't been able to get to, take naps, whatever relaxes you and makes you happy.
  • Eat well: Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains. Indulging in caffeine, fast food and sugar as quick "pick-me-ups" also produce a quick "let-down."
  • Keep your medical appointments: Make sure you get your annual check-up. Being a caregiver provides many excuses for skipping your necessary check-ups, but don't do it. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.
  • Indulge: Treat yourself to a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and to reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative. You shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to feel good.
  • Support: Find a local caregiver support group. They will help you understand that what you are feeling and experiencing is normal. This is a place to get practical advice from people who are in your situation and to bounce off those feelings of stress, since everyone is likely to be in the same situation and can empathize.

As Virginia Morris puts it in her book, How to Care for Aging Parents, it's important for you to take part in "indulgent necessities." Everyone needs some pampering occasionally, for both physical and mental health. So don't feel guilty if you treat yourself once in a deserve it and you need it.

Last revised: April 11, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. January 24, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Posted by APRIL

    I'm going through early stages of some sort of dementia with my spouse. We work together (so we're together ALL THE TIME). He's more often than usual forgetting where he puts personal items, what he went to the store for, places and times that we frequent, and asks me the same questions over and over. Most of the time I can cope, but sometimes situations evolve into arguments. I need to tell him that these taking a toll on me.


  2. October 19, 2018 at 10:31 pm | Posted by TJ

    After going through several personal caregiving journeys with family members, I can empathize with the trials and tribulations that being a caregiver can demand. I'm now at a point in my life where I'm happy to become a caregiver for others loved ones so they may have a well deserved break to take care of themselves too.


  3. October 8, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Posted by Wendy

    Although my 65 year old paranoid schizophrenic brother lives in a living assisted facility, I play an important role as a caregiver, which the VA pointed out and recognizes. I'm my brother's watch dog and safety net. I participate in his medical care, do his banking and personal shopping, and engage in fun activities like playing cards and dominoes and coloring with him. I communicate to his conservator, case managers, doctor and medical provider. I'm been doing this most of these 45 years. He requires more medical care and services now than before. We don't go out together like we used to so I feel I've lost my best friend. It's been very painful seeing him decline. I know the importance of taking care of myself but find it is harder now in my 60s than in my 20s, 30s and 40s. For fun, I attend free events like festivals, take Zumba classes, sing in a senior chorus, and read books which help. I try to volunteer too. I just wish I had the money I once had to take vacations and travel. I am experiencing caregiver burnout. Luckily I found out that the VA offers support to families and now have a free therapist. AARP doesn't acknowledge me as a caregiver but the VA does.


  4. September 25, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Posted by Ismael

    I am working to become a caregiver and I will work with elderly people with Dementia and Mental Health so far I'm planning to help them but also I will make sure I take care of myself as well.


  5. May 24, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Posted by Isaiah wilson

    I am a caregiver and I work with elderly people with dementia. Some days are more busy than others but regardless of the situation I am there to help the residents that can't help themselves


  6. April 16, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Posted by Etalemahu Tekle

    I take care of my 4 children's without any help every day .it is very hard .sometimes very stressful .I am trying to manage my self. I learned from this lesson a lot for the future. Because I have a plan to work in senior care giving.


  7. April 16, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Posted by Etalemahu Tekle

    my thought from this lesson is focus for my self at least 20 minutes each day to manage the stress is very important . work out well ,eat well take break .....


  8. November 14, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Posted by Betsy

    I am so stressed out I can't even figure out to take the stress assessment. My husband has dementia and only wants to be with me. I can't take it 24 hours a day. Our daughter visits about once a month but he becomes irritated when he knows I am leaving. When I get a chance to be away from him, the last thing I want to do is sit around talking about dementia. I would like to divorce him but I know he could not survive without me. I wish he would die so I could get on with me life. Surely I am not the only person who has felt this way.


  9. November 1, 2017 at 2:08 am | Posted by Terry Murray

    As sole caregiver, with some respite support from the local (Canadian) public health agency, this advice is impossible to follow. I'm 300 miles from my home (and friends, my own doctor, etc.). My respite periods don't coincide with the lane swims at the nearest public pool. My sister is on a low-residue diet, and it's enough work for me to prepare meals for her (no fruit, vegetables, fibre, etc.), so I just eat whatever she's having. This is completely unrealistic for most sole caregivers.


  10. January 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Posted by Mayea

    Im a caregiver of my 90 year old mother who suffers dementia and my dad who is healthy except he is 100 years old. He can be very demanding and hurtful sometimes. My mom can be hard to handle at times. I have a helper but mentally and physically it is very hard!!! My husband is very supportive but I don't tell him too much because I don't want him to get mad at them. The only thing that keeps me going is God.


    • July 3, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Posted by Teresa

      I am right there with you! My dad has always been the strong one in our family -- he has taken care of everything for as long as I remember. This week, he's been admitted to a hospital and I have been called upon to take care of my Mother 24 hours per day. The only thing I get from people is what I should and shouldn't do or say for either of them. The one thing I have realized is that most people are long on advice and short on real help -- funny how so many people who "care" disappear when a crisis hits.This morning, my mom asked me to take her to the hospital because she has high blood pressure issues, and now my parents are in two different hospitals. I had to call my Dad this morning, who's still in the hospital, to ask him for help. I broke down and cried.I can't eat, can't sleep, and I don't see this situation improving -- ever.The fact that I am also trying to apply for a job right now does not help at all. So now I'm home (to get away from the constant stress), and I'm fearful of calling either of my parents or anyone else at either hospital to find out what's going on.I guess I'll try to get some sleep and contact my Dad tonight. I can't deal with anymore stress right now.


  11. July 19, 2016 at 10:41 am | Posted by Father Tom Johnson-Medland

    Do you mind if we copy this caregiver stress article for our hospice patients? We will credit you folks for the piece.


  12. March 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm | Posted by kesha

    My name is kesha and i take care of my 36 yera old sister which is a twin. she is the second oldest in im the baby our father died almost 2yrs ago in i had to put my greif to the side in be strong for my sister my mother doesnt support me an my other sister dont either its very hurtful since my dad died i just have my kids husband in god its very hard seeing her like this but the only person she got..


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