Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping With Stress
Without a doubt, 2020 was a stressful year for older adults because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, the stress was even greater for those who cared for seniors during this turbulent time.
Routine caregiving, however, was an overwhelming responsibility long before the coronavirus disease outbreak. In fact, a 2020 report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) found that 36 percent of family caregivers described their situation as “highly stressful.” In the five years since AARP and NAC last conducted the national survey, the percentage of caregivers who described their health as excellent or very good dropped to 41 percent from 48 percent.
It’s no surprise that women make up the majority of caregivers. But what was surprising was statistics that showed many women left the workforce during the COVID-19 crisis to care for their children or for aging parents. Since February 2020, women have lost over 5.4 million net jobs, and account for 55 percent of overall net job loss, according to statistics from the National Women’s Law Center.
Time’s Up, a group that advocates for gender equality in the workplace, wants companies to step up and create better options for women caring for children and older adults.
“The pandemic has really, really just exposed to everyone how critical the need is to have caregiving in this country,” says Tina Tchen, the CEO of Time’s Up, which also created the Care Economy Business Council.
So far, Google, McDonald’s, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Verizon, PayPal, Uber, and Spotify are among the 200 companies that have agreed to work with the council, which plans to bring the workforce issue to Congress.
Although the number of COVID-19 cases is decreasing across the country, caregiving tasks continue. Because of this, those who care for older adults—both men and women—are urged to stay alert for symptoms of stress and make the necessary changes to prevent caregiver burnout.
10 Signs of Caregiver Stress
Caring for a loved one every day can become an overwhelming responsibility, particularly if the person has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. The pressure of caregiving can build up gradually and can affect a caregiver’s health.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 signs that indicate caregivers may be experiencing a high level of stress:
- 1. Anger or frustration toward the person they are caring for
- 2. Anxiety about the future and facing another day
- 3. Denial about their loved one’s condition
- 4. Depression that makes it difficult for them to cope with their situation
- 5. Difficulty concentrating
- 6. Exhaustion that makes it hard to carry out their daily tasks
- 7. Health problems that begin to affect them mentally and physically
- 8. Moodiness or irritability
- 9. Sleeplessness over ongoing concerns and things to do
- 10. Social withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities that were once enjoyed
If you are a caregiver and experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s not too late to take steps to reduce your stress levels.
Tips to reduce caregiver stress
You may have your hands full as a caregiver, but there are ways to protect yourself from burnout:
- Take time for yourself. It’s common for caregivers to feel guilty about taking time off to go to a movie, go out to dinner, or go for a walk. But, giving yourself some time to relax and letting someone else take over your caregiving duties is essential for both your physical and mental health. If you do not have anyone to help you, the National Respite Locator, operated by the Access to Respite Care and Help National Respite Network and Resource Center, provides information on adult daycare centers and home care services in your area.
- Use private communication platforms. Sending emails or making telephone calls to update family and friends on your loved one’s health is time-consuming and tiresome. What’s more, writing posts on social media violates your loved one’s privacy. Try using health-related support websites, such as CaringBridge or MyLife Line that allow you to privately communicate with your family or friends about your loved one.
- Use local resources. If you have problems finding local resources, the U.S. government’s Eldercare Locator can connect you to your local Area Agency on Aging, a nonprofit organization that helps seniors access services and programs.
- Join a support group. Talking with someone else who understands the challenges of caregiving lets you know that you are not alone. Whether it’s an in-person group, a Facebook discussion group, on an online caregiving forum, support group members may also provide solutions to certain caregiving problems.
- Maintain supportive relationships. Caregiving duties never stop, so it’s up to you to keep in contact with supportive, positive people who are willing to listen to your concerns and care about your welfare. Avoid negative, selfish people who want to use your time to only talk about themselves.
- Do not ignore your own health. Visit your doctor for routine visits, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and don’t forget to exercise. Taking care of your own health while juggling your caregiving duties may be challenging, but maintaining your health is key to helping your loved one.
It also helps to let your primary care physician know that you are a caregiver so that your doctor can assess your health and identify any potential health issues.
Maintaining your own health and experiencing the benefits of relaxation can go a long way in helping you cope with stress and avoid caregiver burnout.