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Family Files

Caregivers Can Manage Stress with Self-Care

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If you are in the habit of reading this blog, you know that I have written several times about the topic of caregiving. Having worked with older adults and their caregivers in my former career "life" and continuing to provide programs for them, I feel that they are some of the most selfless, noble people I have ever known. Caregivers give of themselves without expecting anything in return, and they rarely think of themselves first.

Although there tends to be an average profile for caregivers, their population is greatly diverse representing both genders and all races, cultures and ages. It is a rewarding experience for most, but also has many challenges and burdens, which create great amounts of stress. Some of the typical signs of stress include:

  • Feelings of tension, tight muscles
  • Frequent headaches, body aches
  • Chronic physical ailments due to lowered immune system
  • Irritability
  • Depression and anxiety – associated symptoms
  • Apathy
  • Thoughts of intent

I have been doing research lately on formal caregivers or those that are paid to provide care either in the care receiver's home or in a long-term care facility. When pressures build up, these professionals can also exhibit those same signs of stress but can also:

  • Voice excessive complaints and blaming
  • Develop substance abuse or other compulsive/addictive behaviors
  • Receive unusual amounts of complaints from others
  • Become preoccupied
  • Exhibit poor self-care

These additional symptoms can be signs of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue occur when professional caregivers are unable to maintain emotional and physical health and well-being as a result of the work they do.

Bottom line is that caregiving can be difficult and stressful, whether you are paid or not. This stress needs to be managed or caregivers will experience burnout, which is a syndrome of mental, emotional, and physical depletion. Burnout interferes with a caregiver's ability to function and is the leading cause of nursing home placement of the care receivers. Good news is that there are ways to prevent and manage caregiver stress by practicing methods of self-care:

  • Practice relaxation techniques – deep breathing, meditation, music, etc.
  • Express feelings by talking with someone
  • Set realistic expectations about what caregiver and care receiver can do
  • Educate yourself on the care receiver's condition and skills needed to assist
  • Take care of your own physical needs – good sleep, meals and exercise
  • Accept help from others and don't be afraid to ask for help
  • Get respite care and take a breaks
  • Practice good communication and optimism

Some very helpful brochures developed by University of Illinois Extension educators from the Caregiving Relationships program are available and can be accessed online at

There is also an upcoming free webinar on  "Caregiver Self-Care" to be held on February 2 at 2:00. Anyone can register by going online to

Family Caregiver Alliance is also a great resource at along with AARP