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Common Causes of Caregiver Stress

Feeling Stressed? You're Not Alone

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Updated March 20, 2012

Common Causes of Caregiver Stress

There are many causes of caregiver stress, and it can sometimes feel overwhelming.

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If you’ve been taking care of a chronically ill spouse or elderly parent, you may be feeling the effects of caregiver stress. If you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, or are experiencing increased stress symptoms, you’re not alone. Providing this type of care can place a great deal of pressure on a person, and caregivers are often surprised by the amount of stress they feel. Here are just some of the pressures that many caregivers face:

Fear or Uncertainty: If you’re in the position of caring for someone with cancer or another serious disease, you’re probably also dealing with concerns for your loved one’s future. If you’re caring for a child with special needs, there may be uncertainty as to how to proceed. Being in the position of being a caregiver usually carries some heavy responsibility and sometimes-scary situations.

Shift in Roles: If you’re caring for an elderly parent, it can be difficult to see someone who’s traditionally been in the role of caring for you to be now in need of help, often for basic activities like getting dressed or driving. When caring for an ill spouse, roles are often affected as well. It might be difficult to see your loved one in such a vulnerable position, and it’s often hard for those needing care to be feeling so helpless. This can take a toll on all parties involved.

Financial Pressure: As doctor bills and other treatment fees accrue, and as less energy is left for work, caregivers often find themselves facing financial pressures as well.

Isolation: When dealing with the needs of someone who requires constant care, a caregiver can feel isolated from the rest of the world. Whether you’re in a position where it’s unsafe to leave your loved one alone, or even if they just get lonely when you leave, you may find yourself much more tied to the house than before, which can make it more difficult for you to get exercise, connect with others, and do the things that help you take stress off.

Little Time Alone: While caregivers may feel isolated from others, it’s also common to have very little time alone. The need for solitude is very real for most people, and the stress of getting little time alone can feel confusing for someone who also feels isolated, but both feelings can coexist with caregivers, causing their stress to multiply.

Demands of Constant Care: Many caregivers find themselves giving round-the-clock care, or spending virtually every free moment attending to the needs of their loved one. Others find that their responsibilities are less constant, but never know if they’ll be needed at one particular moment or the next, so they feel like they need to be constantly available. The feeling of being "always on duty" can take a heavy toll on a caregiver.

Guilt: Sometimes the responsibility and feelings of isolation can be overwhelming, and caregivers feel burned-out. Sometimes feelings of guilt accompany such feelings, as though they’re a sign of disloyalty. Feelings of frustration are understandable, but guilt is still common.

These are just a few of the stressors that caregivers commonly feel, and many people may feel that their stress levels are excessive and that they must not be handling things as well as they should. If you feel that way, I hope the above list puts you at ease: You are facing significant pressures, and stress is a natural reaction. Especially if you’ve been in a caregiver role for quite a while or face a great deal of responsibility as a caregiver, and it’s important to find an outlet for your stress.

While it may be difficult to find the time, energy and resources to take care of yourself, it’s important to make self care a priority. This article on stress relief and caregivers has some valuable ideas on managing stress and avoiding caregiver burnout.

For more information on stress and stress management, see these ongoing stress management resources.

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