Counseling for Caregiver Issues and Caregiver Stress
When someone is sick with a chronic or terminal illness, often spouses, family members, and friends step in and help care for their loved one. Someone who provides most of the care or assistance is called a primary caregiver. Most often a primary caregiver’s job is usually 24 hours a day – 7 days per week. This is unlike a nurse, doctor, or other professional caregiver who clocks out at the end of the day.
A primary caregiver has many duties which include practical things that need to be taken care of, such as keeping track of medications, assistance with basic needs such as showering and cooking/feeding, and driving them to doctor’s appointments. The list seems endless as the caregiver provides whatever daily assistance is needed for the patient. Often times caregivers also take on the household duties, like yardwork, laundry and shopping, and other chores the person who is sick is no longer able to do on their own.
In addition to the practical duties of being a caregiver, are the emotional strain and social challenges associated with being a caregiver. Worrying about how their loved one is feeling and what the future holds affects sleep patterns and causes additional stress. It is very easy to see how a caregiver can become overstressed with all the additional duties they take on. We call this “caregiver stress.” Additionally, the primary caregiver usually takes on the role of communicator. This could involve communicating to friends and family about how the patient is doing. All these caregiver responsibilities are carried out along with the caregiver’s own daily responsibilities such as their job and household tasks. Many caregivers report loneliness as they have to give up many of their social activities to provide care to their loved one.
Managing caregiver stress can be difficult, but is possible with the right tools. Caregiving can become both mentally exhaustive as well as physically exhausting leading to chronic stress. We feel “distressed” when we have too many items on our list of things to-do as compared to our ability and resources to check everything off that list. Caregiver responsibilities can last for months or even years leading to chronic stress. Some symptoms of chronic distress can include: Fatigue, poor concentration, worry, mood swings, frequent crying, poor sleep, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, and changes in appetite. Recognizing that we are experiencing caregiver stress is the first step towards being able to manage that stress. This seems like a simple concept, but is not always as easy as it seems. Caregivers may have developed a habit of putting their own needs on the back burner because, by definition, they are used to worrying about and paying attention to their loved ones needs and want to help care for them in the best possible ways.
There are several things that caregivers can do to minimize the distress that they feel. Accepting offers of help is perhaps the most beneficial. At diagnosis or at the beginning of treatment, family members and friends offer assistance by saying “Please call me if there is anything that I can do.” Yet, help may not be needed at that time. Accepting offers of help is hard for some people due to pride or feeling like they should be able to do everything as a caregiver. However, after weeks and months the caregiver can begin to feel fatigued and less able to manage the day-to-day stress of caregiving. Thus, it is important to recognize this distress and reach out to others for their assistance.
As part of managing caregiver stress, self-care for the caregiver is important. When a loved has cancer or another serious illness, it is all too easy to neglect your own physical, social, and emotional needs. So, it is very important that caregivers care for themselves, too! It may seem that certain activities are selfish when you know your loved one is home sick after chemo or struggling with their illness, but it is important to recognize that it is not, and that these outside activities help to keep one balanced both physically and emotionally. Making time to go for a get your hair cut, have lunch with a friend, watch a ball game or just going for a walk by yourself are rejuvenating and help us to re-charge. This allows us to continue to provide the care or assistance that their sick loved one needs. It’s vital to recognize the symptoms of caregiver stress and understand the challenges of being a caregiver so that the caregiver doesn’t end up finding themselves sick.
A mental health therapist can help provide additional caregiver stress management tools to a caregiver and Finding the right counselor is important. Therapeutic relationships are built on trust, honesty and mutual respect between the therapist and the client. It is important to find a counselor with whom you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings AND who has the necessary expertise to help you reach your goals. For that reason, we offer a free brief phone consultation to ensure that we are the right fit for you. If you would like to discuss some other issue(s), please don’t hesitate to contact Dana Nolan at 407-340-2474.