Caregiver stress is real. No lie, right? But if you don’t overcome intense caregiver stress, it’s also dangerous!
Why? Because being a caregiver is hard for anybody and everybody. It is difficult to overcome intense caregiver stress. And I’m saying that as a nurse; caregiving is my calling.
But, there is a big, BIG, BIG difference between caregiving as a calling and answering a caregiver call for your loved one.
One provides a living, and the other can literally take the living.
Caregiver stress can cause burnout and can even be life-threatening. The strain can progress to severe health problems so reducing the pressure you experience is imperative.
Protecting caregivers through stress reduction and self-care promotion is one of my passions. But my focus didn’t come from my nursing education or experiences. Rather, it occurred after the death of my beloved aunt who let caregiver stress impact her self-care to the point of her mortality.
That’s why I wanted to use my personal story to share these 5 things I think you need to know to overcome intense caregiver stress. One of these may even surprise you – it’s related to faith! (I also share deeper details about ‘my story’ at the end of this post – I hope my story doesn’t sound like your story.)
Caregiver Stress Can Eventually Override Self-Care
First, some personal background.
My aunt had been complaining 2-3 days about a very sharp pain in her upper chest that went all the way to her back. But, she did not seek any medical attention for this pain.
In fact, she never went to the doctor.
She did not do the necessary check-ups.
She never felt like she had the time. Her caregiving duties always overrode her self-care.
After her death, over three days, my family worked together to provide 24/7 care for my grandma all the while planning a funeral for my aunt.
Talk about caregiver stress!
We found an open bed in a care facility not too far away. We hired a medical bus to transport my grandma to what I knew would be her last home.
As I rode with my grandma, a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions were flying through my mind. The transit ride was so much bumpier than I expected…I thought it would ride like a bus, but this was more like riding in the back of a pickup truck.
And yet it was exactly like what we were experiencing.
My aunt took the very best care of my grandma. But because she did not take care of herself, the journey was unexpectedly, and tragically bumpy.
5 Tips to Manage and Overcome Intense Caregiver Stress
All along, my mom, dad, brothers, and uncle were each trying to help in the ways they could. Now, they were all second-guessing their past works and involvement in grandma’s care, wondering could they have done something different to have changed the outcome of today?
And, as the nurse and point person for the care, I was right there worrying about my past works with them.
But, we did so much right!
– All families are quirky to some level, right? But success comes from a family working together. I was so impressed to see each of my family members doing things they did best. Not just during the funeral preparation but during the entire caregiving process.
- My aunt was the best suited for hands-on care (she already lived with grandma).
- However, my mom and uncle split the other duties based on their likes and strengths.
- Mom was the runner and driver.
- Her brother would provide respite while my aunt went out with my mom.
- My brothers and dad would fix things or help as needed for basic maintenance and cleaning, and even pet care!
- I live 8 hours away but offered ongoing coordination, education, and encouragement.
Getting Out of The House
– My aunt was able to get out of the house and go with friends regularly. My mom and uncle would take turns sitting with grandma, or a hired aide or other friends helped out. Although I noticed her outings were decreasing, she was getting out to have fun. She also had times where she was able to work on a couple of hobbies at home. My aunt was always proud to show off her progress on her work.
She had outside help
– Although some of the help was from family and friends who volunteered, there was also help to come in through various agencies. Caregiving is not something that can be done for the long-term all alone. She wasn’t alone.
The house was clean, and grandma received exceptional care. I just wish my aunt would have taken better care of her own physical, emotional and mental, and spiritual health needs.
As grandma’s care began getting more intensive, it became more time consuming and exhausting for my aunt. She spent a lot of our visits talking about the caregiving.
4. Know When Stress on the CareGiver Is Too Much
Knowing this now, I wish our family would have considered a discussion to watch for a couple of goals or milestones. Every family will have different situations, but it is important to identify:
- When more help is needed. This can be determined by:
- How many hours/day are needed for direct caregiving
- How much lifting is needed
- Having a family discussion upfront is a great starting place. It removes the ‘giving up’ feeling because the entire family is watching for milestones that had previously been declared to be too much for one caregiver.
- When it is time for a facility or possibly hospice care. Nobody wants to talk about these things. But it is easier to have the discussion if a framework is set up from the beginning. It is especially helpful to ease guilt during the most difficult periods.
Caregiver stress is a real thing and can be dangerous but there are things that can be done to overcome it. Implementing precautions like sharing duties, getting the primary caregiver out of the house, and getting outside help can provide a tremendous amount of support.
Additionally, setting up a plan to know when even more help is needed or when to move your loved one to a facility or hospice care is also extremely valuable.
The rest of my story…my struggle to overcome intense caregiver stress
On that fall day when I received the phone call that started it all, I picked up the receiver, and my mom stated, “Lisa, my sister passed away today!”
With the death of my aunt, I needed to take care of my grandma. As a nurse, I was ready to do what needed to be done.
Caregiver Stress Impacts Emotions
In a blur of what I assume was packing and phone calls, I somehow ended up on a flight home within a very short time. I numbly sat in the airport during a layover trying to figure out future care options for my grandma.
After I arrived, I noticed we all felt stress, nobody slept well, and there was that constant weird feeling that we were so very busy, but yet not doing anything to move forward. Even though I knew we were all feeling stress, I felt irritable dealing with my family and felt like I was the only one who could do things right for my grandma.
I began to understand how personal emotions can impact a care giver’s day or mood.
Caregiver Stress Takes Over Priorities
The stress of caregiving for my grandma caused some tunnel vision so to speak. My only focus was on giving care to grandma. There was no hunger, exhaustion or… anything else. Suggestions from my family to rest or to let someone else take a turn went ignored.
The caregiving experience with my grandma wasn’t at all like the typical nursing caregiving I was familiar with performing.
At work, I knew I was part of a team of other qualified nurses. Nurses quickly hand off care to the oncoming shift nurse. I am comfortable with others taking a turn, feel hunger and fatigue after a 12-hour shift and set limits and only connect emotionally on a professional level.
5. Use Your Faith to Improve Your Self-care to Overcome Intense Caregiver Stress
I didn’t know it then, but I wish I would have known that I could have used my faith to improve my self-care.
In order to fulfill our calling, or serve the Lord to our fullest we need to be mindful of our self-care. The Lord created our bodies and they require self-care. It doesn’t matter if we think we don’t have time, don’t need it, or even if we feel unworthy to focus on ourselves. We still NEED it to live out our purpose at our highest ability. (Interested in learning more about this? See below.)
Caring for my grandmother, I couldn’t let go. I loved her and wanted to do it all for her. Only, I couldn’t see that I wasn’t:
- Providing skilled nursing care, and anyone (who is willing) can learn caregiving
- Taking care of MY self-care needs
- Going to be able to give my best long-term
- Saving my mental energy to find a long-term caregiving solution
And just like that, caregiver stress took over my priorities.
In closing, I know that it can be difficult to overcome intense caregiver stress. And, I also know how fast that feeling of overwhelm can happen. So, please implement strategies to support your family caregiver!
And, if you are the primary caregiver, be mindful of your self-care.
Remember these suggestions:
- Share duties
- Get the caregiver out of the house
- Get outside help
- Set caregiving milestones to determine when it is too much
- Use your faith to improve your self-care