I’m exhausted and stressed out…how can I cope and get help?
By Amy Goyer
Many of us put ourselves at the bottom of the list when caregiving. We see our loved ones as more vulnerable, so we focus our energy on them and neglect our own health and well-being. But family caregivers are vulnerable too due to high levels of ongoing stress, lack of sleep, and emotional ups and downs — on top of the demanding physical aspects of our role. Here are some tips and resources to help you take care of yourself.
Connect with other caregivers
Family caregivers get the best support, compassion, and helpful tips from others who have lived through similar situations. Most family caregivers feel a load has been lifted off their shoulders when they can talk with others who ‘get it.’ You can connect with other caregivers in various ways:
- Join an in-person support group: Find one by contacting your local area agency on aging (using the Eldercare Locator); disease-specific organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, ALS Association, or American Heart Association; your local hospitals; or hospice organizations.
- Connect with support online: Get support and learn from other family caregivers any time – day or night. Some organizations also hold scheduled virtual support group meetings.
- Reach out to your personal networks: Have a friend who has been or is a caregiver? Schedule a regular get-together (either in-person or virtually) so you can vent and gain support from each other. No support groups in your area? Gather your friends or co-workers and start one (the area agencies on aging may have resources to help guide you in launching a group).
Support your mental health
If you are struggling with emotional turmoil and stress, consider behavioral/mental health counseling, life coaching, and discussing your concerns with your doctor to determine if medication would be appropriate for you. If getting to appointments is difficult with your busy schedule, consider virtual counseling, which is much more readily available now.
Acknowledge emotions. Your emotions may fluctuate a great deal between feeling sad, anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, and joyful. You may also feel angry — at the situation, the disease, your loved ones, those who aren’t helping you with caregiving, or those who just don’t understand what you are going through.
These emotions are very natural; most family caregivers feel all of them and more at one time or another. One emotion doesn’t cancel out the others — you can feel dedicated and loving and really want to care for someone while at the same time feeling angry and resentful, impatient, or frustrated. All those feelings are valid.
It helps to acknowledge and express your emotions in healthy ways rather than ignoring or holding them in. You might write in a journal, call/text a friend, talk with your counselor, or share your emotions in a support group or online caregiving group.
The biggest barrier to self-care for caregivers is time. There are only so many hours in the day. Once we do our caregiving tasks, and take care of our other family members, work, household matters, etc., there is not much time left for us. That’s why it’s critical to schedule self-care. It’s more likely to happen if we preserve time on our calendars. Schedule health care appointments ahead of time, as well as time for naps, exercise, a hot bath, reading, or whatever fills you up. Family caregivers are at high risk for isolation (which is as bad for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day and worse than obesity), so schedule regular socialization with friends and family. If the things you schedule get bumped due to urgent needs – that’s ok but be sure to reschedule them.
Watch out for burnout
Be aware of your own behaviors and watch for red flags such as constantly getting sick, insomnia, changes in eating or drinking behaviors, depression, anxiety, debilitating weariness, or the desire to just walk away from the caregiving situation. Enlist others you trust to tell you if they see you heading into burnout. If you see/feel these signs, get help as soon as possible. Take a fresh look at your caregiving plan — work on ways to get more help, delegate caregiving tasks, take more respite breaks, and attend to self-care.
Learn more about self-care for caregivers in our Real World Health Care article, “Caregiving Expert: ‘Fill Your Tank’”
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – Call or text 988, or visit the website at 988lifeline.org/chat for an online chat. All phone, text or online chat conversations are free and confidential.
- AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group on Facebook
- Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself (Mayo Clinic)
- Caregiver Burnout (Cleveland Clinic)
- Coping with Burnout (ALS Association)
- Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping with Stress (AARP)
- The Emotional Side of Caregiving (Family Caregiver Alliance)
- Finding Therapy (Mental Health America)
- How to Find a Caregiver Support Group that’s Right for You (AARP)
- Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers (Family Caregiver Alliance)
- What is Caregiver Burnout (American Heart Association)
Amy Goyer is a nationally known caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. A passionate champion for caregivers, she has also been one her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sister, and others. Connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.