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The NSPA Blog

Caregiver Stress – How to Identify and Minimize It!

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Posted on July 8th, 2019 by Bettina Carlson, under Caregiver, Patient Advocacy, Take Charge, Tips & Resources

caregiver stress Nshore patients advocates

Taking care of a loved one is a noble task. It is something we sometimes feel obligated to do, sometimes we have no choice due to financial restraints, sometimes it’s our chosen profession. However we arrived there, it is a very stressful job even during the best of times.

Our individual personalities are diverse as are those of our care recipients. Some of us are optimistic by nature with a can-do attitude, some are the opposite; some of us are patient in challenging situations, some are not; some of us are happy-go-lucky, some are grouchy.

Our care recipients’ needs can run the gamut from basic needs, like medication management, to full-on support with everything, due to being physically immobilized or suffering from Alzheimer’s.

And then there are our spouses and children, who may feel neglected and complain that we don’t spend enough time with them, that we always put our mother or patient or whoever our care recipient is first. They may also complain, that we are always irritated with them over every little thing.

Yes, the responsibilities that fall on us are many and diverse, emotionally and physically. And they can wear us out! They can bring us to our knees!
It is easy to see, how this can become a very complicated, overwhelming and possibly explosive environment. A grouchy care recipient may trigger your frustration into an angry outburst. A piece of well-intended “advice” from a family member or a friend, who is clueless of your experience, can cause you to blow up towards them. A burnt lasagna dish for dinner becomes a major failure causing an emotional meltdown. You want to run away and just be left alone. You are suffering from Caregiver Stress or, if your symptoms are severe and completely overwhelm you beyond control, even Burnout!

So what are the signs of stress or burnout? And what can you do to minimize this outcome? There is a lot of literature out there on this topic. I have found some great tips through observations with caregivers, as well as in the following articles: Gina Roberts Grey’s article in NextAvenue. Caregiver Burnout: What It Means and How to Cope. And Mayo Clinic’s article on Stress Management.

Early Warning Signs of Impending Burnout

• Regular thoughts of anger or resentment toward the person you’re caring for
• Irritation toward others who aren’t helping with your loved one’s care
• Isolating yourself from people who aren’t involved in providing care to the person
• Consistently arriving late to appointments or to visiting the person receiving care, or often leaving early

Signs of Burnout

• You no longer find pleasure in things you once found enjoyable.
• Friends and family have expressed concerns about your well-being.
• You are getting negative feedback at work
• You’re having problems with your spouse
• You experience intense and recurrent feelings of anger, sadness, worry or fear
• You have difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, notice drastic weight changes (significant gain or loss), or unexplained health problems
• You find yourself using a substance to cope with, manage or suppress an uncomfortable or painful feeling

Please hear me loud and clear- these are not signs of weakness, these are simply signs of your need for a reset! Yes! YOUR need to get support and minimize your caregiver stress! And fortunately, you have options.

Tips to Minimize Caregiver Stress

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself

If you have occasional meltdowns. It comes with the territory. But do try to identify the reason that triggered you, e.g., were you particularly tired that day, is it an unresolved issue that keeps coming up and maybe making you feel guilty, are your expectations not aligned with the cognitive or physical abilities of your care recipient?

Build a support network

As all caregivers learn, you must eventually face the fact that no one can do everything alone. Build a support network you can ask for help with anything from the basics, such as transportation or cooking, to the more complex, such as medical support, to the spiritual and emotional support. Look to your family members, neighbors, friends, Professional Patient Advocates, medical professionals, Clergy/Church members, Home Health Care, your local Senior Center, your Senior Help Line (for Illinois: 1-800-252-8966; nationwide: 1-800-677-1116); and more. Read more in our recent blog post focused on building a caregiver support team.

Have realistic goals and expectations

Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize and make lists; you can make use of online apps to help you stay organized, read here. Set personal boundaries, say no to requests that are draining you, such as hosting holiday meals.

Join a support group

It can provide you with an opportunity to share your personal experiences and feelings, to learn coping strategies, to receive encouragement from people who understand your experience or to learn firsthand information about diseases or treatments. Check your State Department of Aging or your local library for suggestions. (In Illinois). Or look online, e.g., Facebook has various support groups like Caregiver Support Group.

Stay connected

Make an effort to stay connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgemental emotional support. Schedule it, so it actually happens! For example, set aside time each week for a coffee klatsch, or to go on a walk with a friend. I call this “walky-talky”, and it’s a double whammy: I get to talk concerns off my chest, while also doing something for my physical health.

Set up a basic routine

Have a good sleep routine to get adequate rest, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day if possible, have the right temperature in your room, cooler is better than warmer. Make time to be physically active on most days of the week. Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water.

Exercise daily

Take a class at the gym. If you cannot afford a gym membership, no problem; you simply need a pair of walking shoes and the discipline to just do it. Even if it’s only a short walk every day, or a quick exercise routine while watching your favorite TV show (YouTube offers plenty of quick exercise programs); or take the stairs instead of an escalator or an elevator. Here are some creative and very easy ideas.

Practice gratitude

Every day write down a few things, you are grateful for, nothing is too insignificant. It could be the fact that you had a bed to sleep in, a TV show you enjoyed, your family, beautiful weather, anything, just don’t overthink it. Over time, focusing on the positive will change your perspective on life for the better. Remember the saying: Your thoughts become your words become your actions become your life! Read here for more info.

Practice acceptance

Some things in life are out of our control. Trying to change what we cannot change, is only making us feel worse and possibly giving us the false and damaging sense of being a failure. Instead, accept what you cannot change, and look for the areas where you have some control and make a difference there. No matter how little, every difference improving a situation helps, and will empower you to continue on healthfully.

So please remember: Asking for help does not make you weak, rather it shows self-regulation and courage to seek help. You do not need to do this alone, there are resources and a community available to support you in your caregiving journey.

01/22/2020. Edited to add another great and comprehensive gem of a resource we have just come across that we believe will be helpful to caregivers and others alike: The Efficient Wellness Routine Guide for Busy People on Groom and Style. Click on the link to read some valuable tips.

On another note, we at NShore Patient Advocates would like to share some of our latest news with you… The Patient Advocacy Symposium is back, but bigger, better, and brighter than ever before! It has evolved into the International Conference on Patient Advocacy (ICOPA) and will be held right here in Northfield, IL on October 3rd-5th, 2019! We hope you will join us! Please see below for a link with more information:


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