Too Stressed to Care
Updated: Feb 13
Do you often find yourself overwhelmed? Exhausted? Anxious?
As a caregiver do you have moments in your day that are just for you? A time when you can let things get quiet in your mind? Moments where you can shut off the worry and stress?
If your answer was no, don’t worry, many caregivers have a problem with finding ways to take care of themselves. I know. I’m a caregiver and I have neglected myself more than I would like to admit when first taking care of my husband. If you listen to my podcast you have an idea of how very little I did for myself while figuring out how to be a caregiver.
People mean well when they try to help you but most times don’t know what to say. You hear it all of the time. “You need to take care of yourself.” However there is never a follow up with how or when. What does taking care of yourself look like? When do they think you would have time to do whatever that is?
I remember the days, when my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, when all I wanted to do was sleep. So if there was any “free time” I would take a nap. I knew it was only a temporary solution to a bigger problem but I was just trying to get by.
Ever feel that way?
Being told to take care of yourself almost feels like an insult on some days, doesn’t it? Especially when you are in the midst of a high stress time. When people would tell me this I took it to be a way for them to say I look really tired or like crap. They just didn’t know how to say it nicely so they suggested I do something about. Just without actually letting me know what I could do.
Here’s the problem.
If you are overwhelmed and you didn’t already know how to make yourself a priority you aren’t going to have the energy to figure out how to do it on your own now.
Often times self care is thought to mean massages and yoga classes. Things that require you to leave your house or at least separate yourself from the rest of the house for at least an hour. But stress makes you feel like crap. When you feel like crap you don’t have the energy to do anything. Especially something new.
Stress affects your ability to think and problem solve. So learning how to do something new or even trying to schedule something for yourself can be impossible.
So what do you do?
First let’s understand how stress affects us.
According to an AARP study on caregivers published in 2011:
53%of caregivers report having clinical significant symptoms of depression.
38% report feeling highly stressed.
Because of that stress, many caregivers end up having stress based disease that puts their health at risk more than the person they are caring for.
Learning how to manage the stress level that you live with is one of the most important things to do for your loved one because it will allow you to be their caregiver long term. The study found that the longer someone was a caregiver the more of a stress burden they felt.
I don’t know about you but, I would like to be a caregiver long term. I want to be able to continue to take care of my husband and I want him to stick around for me to take care of.
If I understand that stress can affect my health what can I do with that information?
Well, it’s a start. If you realize that stress can take you away from being able to help the person you love then maybe there’s a reason there to look into things that you can do.
It is too easy to say - reduce the stress you live with and you will find better health, be more available to your family and be a happier person. All of that is true but it doesn’t help you figure things out. It just places the blame on the person who doesn’t know how to reduce stress. It makes people feel shame because they can’t get themselves out from underneath that burden.
I want to say - there is hope, you can learn how to live with less stress and build some resilience. However, it is going to take some work. Hopefully you understand that you are worth it because your family needs you.
Understand that depression is not something you can hope to have go away on it’s own. If you are clinically depressed please see someone. Talk to your Dr or see a therapist. Some organizations have talk therapy groups for caregivers. If you can find one of those make the time to go. Having depression does not mean that you are weak and it takes strength to get help. Don’t ignore it.
Most importantly you need to know your why.
Why are you a caregiver right now? Only you can answer that question. Is it because you love that person? Is it because you can take care of them right now when others couldn’t? Why do you do it?
Now that you know that, think of how it would feel if you couldn’t care for that person because you were too sick to do it. Chronic stress can lead to depression, heart attack, stroke, obesity and gastrointestinal problems. It is also linked to six of the leading causes of death.
You are already taking care of someone with a major health issue. Finding your why and understanding how serious stress can be is the first step to finding ways to handle the stress you experience as a caregiver.
In the next post we will learn how your nervous system reacts to protect you and how you have full control over the part of it that allows you to relax.