Caregiving—caring for a loved one or client who is unable care for themselves, can be a rewarding and challenging experience.
If you are a full-time caregiver with little experience, or if you have health issues of your own you may experience high levels of distress. It is not uncommon for you to suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression due to the physical and emotional strain of caring for a loved one or client.
As a caregiver, you may have little time for personal pleasures or relaxation. You may suffer from feelings of frustration or resentment, and as result, you may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress and pressures related to caregiving.
Learning how to manage caregiver stress can reduce the risk of developing substance abuse that may require alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
Signs of Caregiver Stress and Burnout
The physical and mental wear and tear of caregiving may lead to caregiver burnout:
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- An inability to cope
Burnout can cause you to make serious mistakes, endangering the health and welfare of the individual in your care. You may also endanger your health, especially if you resort to alcohol or drug abuse to relieve stress and anxiety.
By recognizing the signs of caregiver stress, you can take measures to deal with it before it turns into burnout or addiction.
These symptoms include:
- Frustration or anger with your situation or toward the individual in your care.
- Fatigue due to overwork or lack of quality sleep.
- Anxiety, irritability, or constant mood swings.
- Poor health, frequent headaches, or body pain.
- Forgetfulness or inability to focus on daily tasks.
- Isolation from others.
- Feeling worried or overwhelmed.
- Uncharacteristic weight loss or weight gain.
- Loss of interest in life.
Caregiver stress should not be ignored. If you experience these symptoms, it is time to make changes in your life. Reach out to family, friends, or community resources for help.
If you are caring for a loved one or client, you should not do it alone. Seeking help is vital to your success long-term. When your stress is managed properly you can view caring for a loved one or client as a rewarding and enjoyable experience.
How to Cope with Caregiver Stress
- Enlist the Help of Others. Do not feel like you must do everything on your own. Ask family or close friends if they would be willing to share the load.
- Make a list of routine tasks so everyone understands your loved one or client’s needs.
- If you are caring for a loved one be sure to divide these tasks among family or close friends. Others can help cook meals, do household chores, or yard work, or even take your loved one to the park.
By sharing the load with others, you will have time to care for yourself and live a more balanced life.
- If you are unable to accomplish everything, make sure that the most important tasks get done. Establish a routine that works for you and your loved one or client.
Be realistic in your daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Learn to say no to tasks that add extra stress to your life, like hosting a dinner party or filling your home with guests for the holidays.
- Join a Caregiver Support Group. Check out caregiver support groups in your area. You will not only benefit from encouragement and support, but you may also glean valuable caregiving tips from experts in their field. It is also a great place to meet new people and develop meaningful friendships.
If you cannot attend meetings in person (because you’re busy or because of COVID-19), join a virtual support group to benefit from their fellowship and support.
- Seek Professional Help. If the stress of caregiving is overwhelming, there is no shame in consulting a therapist to work out feelings of depression, inadequacy, guilt, or resentment. It is much healthier than resorting to drugs or alcohol to cope.
- Take Care of Yourself. You can’t care for others if you’re not caring for yourself. Make sure you are eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising daily to stay healthy and fit. Schedule routine visits with your doctor and dentist to avoid problems and catch them while they are easier to manage.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical. Make sure you have time to relax and do things you enjoy. By getting help to care for your loved one or client, you will have time to invest in you: visit a friend, schedule a dinner date, go shopping, or take a long relaxing bath.
Find what makes you happy and helps you decompress and do it regularly to reduce the stress and pressure of your role as a caregiver.
Caring for a Senior with Addiction
Just as caregivers can develop substance use disorders, so can the seniors in your care.
Research suggests that roughly 17% of seniors in the country suffer from alcohol or drug abuse problems. You may face this issue while you are caring for an elderly client or loved one.
There are no age restrictions when it comes to addiction. Seniors can develop addiction problems just as easily as young people, particularly when coping with grief, depression, or pain.
Sometimes addiction problems are unintentional. For example, misunderstanding medication dosage instructions can lead to addiction.
Mixing alcohol or illegal drugs with prescription drugs can have devastating effects on a senior’s health. Addiction can be harmful at any stage of life, but seniors are more vulnerable to the devastating effects of alcohol or drug abuse due to their age and related health issues.
Seniors are also more susceptible to serious injuries while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Signs of possible addiction include:
- Slurred speech or smell of alcohol on breath or clothes.
- Empty liquor bottles around the home.
- Uncharacteristic behavior or mood swings/depression.
- Scrapes or bruises due to falling after drinking too much.
- Frequent requests for prescription refills.
- “Doctor shopping”: receiving the same prescriptions from multiple physicians simultaneously.
- Use of multiple pharmacies.
As a caregiver, you can play an important role in helping a senior recognize and overcome an addiction problem. It will take open communication, a respectful attitude, and an understanding heart to encourage your loved one or client to seek out services for addiction recovery.
Caregivers are essential workers that are much needed in society today. By sharing the load with others, you can reap the rewards of your caregiving efforts without suffering the ill effects of caregiver stress and burnout.
Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.
- Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping with Stress
- Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself
- 4 things you can do to alleviate caregiver stress
- Strategies for Coping with Caregiver Stress
- Talking about Substance Abuse as a Caregiver
- Substance Abuse and Seniors: What All Caregivers Need to Know