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Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress

Physical signs of caregiver stress
When you're a caregiver it's easy to forget about your own needs.

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"If I could just get some good sleep, maybe I wouldn't feel so tired all the time and this headache would go away."

When you're a caregiver it's easy to forget about your own needs. After all, you're a caregiver not a me-giver. Right? Well, yes and no. As difficult as it might seem, you need to pay attention to yourself too. Why? One study done by Elissa Epel from the University of California found that family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely. This level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a caregiver's life.

So how do you know if caregiver stress is affecting you? Look for these common physical signs of caregiver stress:

  • Disturbed Sleep
  • Back, shoulder or neck pain, muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Stomach/digestive problems (upset or acid stomach, cramps, heartburn, gas, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea)
  • Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
  • Loss of hair
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure, irregular heart beat, palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Perspiration
  • Skin disorders (hives, eczema, psoriasis, tics, itching)
  • Periodontal disease, jaw pain
  • Reproductive problems/infertility
  • Weakened immune system suppression: more colds, flu, infections
  • Sexual dysfunction/lack of libido

If you are experiencing some of the signs listed above, consider talking with a healthcare professional that can help you to evaluate your situation. You are not alone. Getting support will help reduce caregiver stress, as well as reduce the associated risks of ongoing stress.

Read on about Emotional Signs of Caregiver Stress.

Last revised: April 6, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 2, 2015 at 12:06 am | Posted by Ron Seals

    A Caregiver's Lament Endless...the repetition of servitude, its oppressive routine crushing, suffocating, demoralizing—eroding away hopes and dreams, consummate user of a life torn down, a life once lived. The pursuit of happiness becomes elusive, vague, and the joy once known is left far behind—its remnants teasing in fading, flashing visions of what was, serving only to nourish the seeds of regret. Energy becomes depleted; love once vibrant, wains and lingers in near-dormant state overtaken by a pervasive cauldron of depression now manifest in silent, growing, and all-consuming act of will. Needs of self sacrificed, the spirit consumed to a fading ember is poised for extinction. Bound by doctrine or bound by beliefs instilled, escape is found only in lasting, cheerless and thankless freedom of death. R B Seals


  2. January 30, 2015 at 3:06 pm | Posted by Kay

    I can feel your pain. I also know what you are talking about. I too, am in the same boat. I have been caring 24/7 for my Mom, for 4 years now. She is getting worse, and it's such a slow disease that it's like she is existing but not living in many ways. I am past being burned out and have not found any help at all. She has insurance and medicare but it does not cover any kind of respite care. I cannot afford to pay for out of pocket. I look in the mirror, and I do not even recognize the person in the mirror. Have you by any chance gained weight? I am 3 sizes bigger and have never had a weight problem before. My belly is abnormally large. It is making me even more depressed. I feel so hopeless. I pray and I try to be positive. I try to walk and drink water, do what I can to lose but if it's my stress - it's simply not working. I do feel your pain. Bless you.


  3. November 4, 2013 at 8:55 am | Posted by joann

    this past tueday I had an aniexty attack , wak taken to the hospital..been doing caregiver for 6 yrs for my husband joe. joe has and always will be my best friend, joe is a nam vet and also suffers from ptsd as well as all the others unpleasantness associated wihn t,b,i, we have been married for 38 yrs. and I find I break down from not being able be close like we once were..i miss conversations, I miss having my best friend be able to converse..i am lonely oh so lonely for my joe, I have no female friends,,joe was all this too for so left alone,,


  4. March 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Posted by Matthew Hogan

    I moved to the Detroit area 3yrs ago to care for my aged mother who has dementia. When I first got here I arrived with my son my dog and 3 suit cases. We got here on a saturday and by monday I had found a job.....within the next 11 months it became obvious that I couldnt leave Mom unattended. I had to quit my job, go on food stamps, and get my son on Medicaid health insurance. 24/7 I am here with her watching her slowly degrade from the once fiery red haired full of life woman to the husk of a human she is now. I have almost all of the symptoms of being on the verge of a total freakin breakdown but have to hold it together for my mother and my son. I am socially withdrawn because I cannot leave, we cannot afford even a modest amt to have someone come sit with her while I go disengauge and decompress....


    • September 3, 2013 at 11:52 am | Posted by raisin2012

      Have you tried respite care? Your state should have a "regional council on aging and disability." Check with this type of program to get free help to come into your home, give you a break and help take care of your mother. I get respite care and it helps especially with the chores of tending to my mom's needs.


  5. January 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Posted by Chris

    I love your site! I have most of the physical signs and was not aware where they were coming from. My husband and I were in a very bad Motorcycle accident 4 and a half years ago. He worked away from Monday to Friday and as he got better first, he went back to work and I was left to fend for myself. That was okay....I became very independent which I think is a good thing....and then October of 2010 he had a massive stroke which kept him without the use of one side....Needless to say, all my physio stopped. I went into a wheelchair, because that was much easier to handle when traversing the hospital corridors. The Rehabilitation Centre was out of town, so I stayed in hotels/motels for 3 and a half months, using taxis,etc. We came home January 27th of 2011 and I have been his personal secretary for months now. I am resenting the fact that I am doing all I am able. I started to go back to physio and the pool, but all of a sudden I got shoulder muscle pain, sick to my stomach. This is the first morning I have actually stayed up. When I got sick I worried about what he would eat. I, of course, didn't get anything. I only hope that he goes before me, so I can have a little ME TIME. That is awful to say, but that's how I feel now.


  6. June 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Posted by Stav

    I want to stress to all caregivers to remember that they are not alone. There is a ton of information and help out there for caregivers. I'd like to promote the Visiting Nurse Service of New York as a place for a host of information and services. Even if you are not in the New York City area, check out their site for articles like Avoiding Caregiver Burnout and You can also follow VNSNY on Facebook ( and Twitter ( for news and important information for caregivers. Take care of yourself! Stav


  7. February 22, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Posted by bill

    Cared for my father at home for a 3 years - now he is in a facility _ I work 9 hrs a day and visit my dad everyday for 2 or 3 hrs longer visits on weekend. I have all the symptoms of stress and depression I feel overwelmed with guilt when I'm not there - I am 47 and single and no life for myself - I feel physically sick and tired. Am constantly stressed out and have anxiety attacks daily - I have no help from family at all


  8. February 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Posted by Linda

    My husband and I have been married 5 !/2 years. We were married on Sat. and he was in the hospital by Tues and went on Kidney Dialysis. 1 year later he broke both hips. I lost my full time good paying job to help care for him during his 4 hip surgeries, Crushed Ankle surgeries and a Kidney Transplant too. I work 4 house a day as a church secretary and it is very lonesome there with no outside contact. I have almost everything on the list that you provided for phy. signs of caregiver stress. I'm now on Heart meds and numerous others and just started taking Paxel, even though I'm been depressed for years. I 've aqquired many medical bills now since I don't have medical insurance. Our finances are eatting us up. I may have to sell or let go of my home that I bought before we were married. So when does the stress ease up and go away????


  9. February 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Posted by Leigh Ann Otte

    It's amazing how many aspects of our well-being stress can affect. I think you could have some of these problems--like getting sick all the time--and not even realize they're from stress. Thanks for the list. It might help some people realize what's going on with their overwhelmed bodies. Leigh Ann Otte OurParents Blogger


  10. November 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Posted by Cheryl

    Cared for Mom during final nine months. Then stayed to care for Dad through 2 hip surgeries. He promised to care for my belongings while I was hospitalized for depression. At his new wife's urging he disposed of all my belongings and all my Mother's family heirlooms, antique furniture, jewelry and photographs while I was ill. Have I any recourse? I provided round the clock care for 2 years and was left emotionally, physically and financially devastated. I am frequently suicidal and do not know if I will ever feel whole again.


  11. October 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Posted by Angie

    Hi..Well, my worst nightmare just happened...picking up my husband's poop off the floor, and following him to the bathroom to clean up his butt. I remember saying to myself over the years...PLEASE don't EVER let that happen to me. Now, what does that say about ME? That I am thinking more about myself than my dear one of 49 yrs? I know that caregivers have these times, but this is one of the deepest ones....because no one seems to be able to diagnose his issues. He is 76...leg weakness that barely keeps him moving...and I am full of impatience and fear. I work, as well..every day at a keep the bills paid...I'm age 74. Thankfully, I work at home, but the "straw that broke the camel's back is almost here." Yet, I feel apologetic...and angry at the same time. At myself, and at him. I give up. Thank you...A!


  12. October 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Posted by Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress | Amatulla's Home Care Services, Inc.

    [...] Read full article on Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress [...]


  13. October 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Posted by Emotional Signs of Caregiving Stress | Amatulla's Home Care Services, Inc.

    [...] the way stress affects you physically is sometimes easier than seeing how it is affecting you emotionally. You may want to think about [...]


  14. July 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Posted by Senior Care Questions | Nursing Forums | Nurse Community | NSLPN | Blog | Stress Drives More Families to Senior Care Services

    [...] fatigue; headaches; high blood pressure; chest pains; skin disorders – even loss of hair – are stress symptoms, likely the direct result of caregiver stress. Stress often affects caregivers in their "day jobs" as [...]


  15. June 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Posted by Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others | Senior Care in Central PA Blog

    [...] ill? Too many times do I hear about this very situation. I am writing today to help you to see the physical signs of caregiver stress, and to realize that planning ahead is [...]


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