There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.
Did you know that families are the primary source of support for older adults and people with disabilities in the United States?
With 1 in 3 adults (half of whom are age 50 or over) currently providing care to other adults as unpaid caregivers, the risk of caregiver stress and even burnout is on the rise.
In honor of National Family Caregivers Month (NFCM), we’re highlighting the unique experience of those who serve as primary caregivers for members of their family.
Read on for 10 signs you (or someone you care about) could be experiencing caregiver stress:
1. You feel tired all the time
Bearing the responsibility of caring for a vulnerable adult in your family can be exhausting. And while some days will be more tiring than others, if you’re noticing that you seem to be running critically low on energy, day in and day out, it’s a sign that you could use some support yourself.
2. Your sleep is changing
With so many factors contributing to our sleep, fluctuations over time are expected. But, when you find yourself needing much more sleep than usual, or struggling to fall or stay asleep, this could indicate a need for professional support. Getting adequate rest on a consistent basis isn’t just essential to your wellness… it also impacts your role as a caregiver.
3. You feel sad more often than usual
Sadness is a healthy emotion and a natural part of life. Yet, there’s a difference between navigating the occasional down days you experience and trying to function when you feel nothing but sadness for weeks on end. If you’re finding it difficult to connect to other emotions or you feel your sadness intensifying over time, you might benefit from consulting with a professional.
4. You have more worries than usual
Similar to sadness, worry is a normal emotion to experience from time to time. But, when your worries start to occur more frequently or in response to stressors or situations that might not typically bother you, it’s worth taking note. Similarly, if you’re finding it more difficult than usual to cope with worried thoughts, speaking with a professional can help.
5. Your weight is fluctuating
Maybe you’ve been noticing that your appetite is greater than (or not as great as) usual. Or maybe you suddenly start to feel your clothes fitting differently than they used to. Weight, like sleep and mood, is influenced by many factors; persistent caregiver stress can be one of them.
6. You notice aches and pains
When your feet hit the floor first thing in the morning, how do you feel? And as you move through your day, does it generally feel easier to complete physical tasks, or are you struggling with discomfort? By tuning in to the signals your body’s sending you, you’ll be better equipped to track changes and patterns over time. Caregiver stress often manifests as physical aches and pains, so it’s important to be aware of these and take appropriate action as needed.
7. You’re less interested
Maybe it’s the favorite musical instrument you haven’t picked up in months. Or the podcast you’ve never missed, that suddenly can’t seem to hold your attention. Decreased pleasure or interest in the activities you typically enjoy can be a warning sign of caregiver stress or even depression.
8. You feel overwhelmed
From medication management to wellness appointments to the basic tasks of attending to your family member’s needs each day, the list of demands on your time and energy can seem endless. It’s no wonder that caregiver stress is such a pervasive challenge. Rather than denying the overwhelm you feel, or trying to simply “power through”, it’s worth tapping in to a community of help yourself.
9. Your substance use is changing
A glass of wine might be part of a ritual you enjoy as you unwind at the end of the day. If you rely on substances to manage your caregiver stress, however, it’s a signal that you could benefit from additional support to identify new strategies for coping.
10. You feel angry or resentful
Of all the signs of caregiver stress, anger and resentment is often the one that causes the greatest guilt for the person experiencing it. If you’re noticing yourself feeling increasingly irritable, angry, or resentful in your role as a caregiver, don’t judge yourself for feeling this way. Instead, treat it as a reminder to connect with support of your own. Explore caregiver support networks and/or consult with a professional to help relieve the overwhelm you feel and navigate the demands of this role more effectively.
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Think you might be experiencing (or witnessing) caregiver stress?