There are few roles more rewarding and significant than being a caregiver. However, when you are a caregiver for a family member or loved one, providing care can cause significant emotional and psychological stress, which may result in the caregiver feeling as though they are unable to perform their job adequately. This is often known as “caregiver role strain.” It can also occur due to a change in family life or financial strain, besides the emotional stress of being a caregiver.
What Causes Caregiver Role Strain?
It’s important to understand that caregiver role strain is a normal, natural response to the stresses and pressures of caring for a loved one or patient. Caregiver role strain is often caused by financial burdens, increased responsibility, family life changes, or a role change.
Many caregivers report that taking care of a loved one is costly, resulting in financial anxiety — and financial stress is a significant source of stress and psychological distress. Added expenses may also make it more difficult or impossible for caregivers to spend money on a vacation, self-care, or stress-reduction, which can exacerbate caregiver role strain.
In addition, the time required to care for a loved one may result in less free time for a caregiver, which can be especially difficult for caregivers who also have full-time jobs, due to the amount of additional work created. Caregivers providing care to loved ones may also find it distressing to navigate the change in family dynamic that comes from being appointed a caregiver to an individual who used to take care of them.
Does Caregiver Strain Lead to Burnout?
Caregiver strain can lead to burnout. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, which can manifest as a shift from being positive and caring to more negative and apathetic. Caregiver burnout most commonly occurs among caregivers who do not get the support they need when experiencing caregiver strain. Fatigue, anxiety, depression, and stress may increase, alongside feelings of guilt about needing to spend time alone on self-care rather than dedicating all of their time to the loved ones in their care. Burnout may also occur when a caregiver is unable to access financial help. It is important to reach out to any existing support systems or seek care or help if you are a caregiver and you suspect you are experiencing caregiver strain.
Who Is at Risk of Caregiver Role Strain?
Because acting as a caregiver, in whatever capacity, can cause emotional, financial, and psychological stress, anyone who is a caregiver is at risk of caregiver role strain. Caregivers who do not have strong systems of personal support, such as family members who live close by or are easy to reach, are at increased risk, as are those who are financially unstable or those who are carrying substantial amounts of debt.
Women are more likely to be at risk of caregiver role strain than men since women are more likely to be given tasks that require emotional labor (men are often given more practical care tasks, like home repairs or maintenance). Young people and those providing care for a spouse are also at heightened risk. However, caregiver role strain can affect individuals of any age, as are those who live with the person they care for. In these cases, the number of hours dedicated to caregiving is likely greater. In addition, those whose care recipient is an older adult with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia are more likely to experience caregiver strain.
Those who are not a caregiver by choice — for example, siblings who live closest to an ailing parent and are designated long-term family caregivers by default — are more likely to experience strain, resulting in family conflict and stressful, emotional adjustments.
Symptoms of Caregiver Role Strain
Caregiver role strain has both physical and mental symptoms. It’s important to be aware of these symptoms to manage and reduce caregiver role strain.
Some of the most common physical health problems that may result from caregiver role strain are as follows:
- Changes in sleep patterns, which can include both sleeping too much, or not sleeping enough
- Significant changes in appetite
- Drastic fluctuations in weight
- Frequent headaches or body pain, where these pains were not previously as prominent or frequent
- A significant change in appetite
- Low or no sex drive
- Problematic behaviors related to substance abuse (drugs or alcohol)
Mental & Emotional Symptoms
Some of the most common mental and emotional symptoms of caregiver role strain are:
- A loss of interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy
- Irritability or crankiness
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Feelings of wanting to engage in self-harm, or of wanting to hurt the person you are caring for
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or constantly worried
Tips for Managing Caregiver Role Strain
Caregiver role strain is common, and may feel overwhelming. But it is important to know that it is possible to manage caregiver role strain for your own benefit as well as the benefit of the person you are caring for.
1. Look After Your Health
You may find it difficult to schedule time to look after yourself when you are caring for a loved one, or you may experience feelings of guilt when you take time to look after your own health. It is important to remember that taking care of your own physical and mental well-being is more important than ever when someone else depends on you; it is much more difficult to provide adequate care when you neglect yourself.
The amount of time you take each day to focus on your own health can be as little as 15 minutes to a half-hour and can involve physical activity, such as going for a walk, engaging in a short yoga practice, or going for a jog; general health and wellness planning, including meal-planning or food shopping; or engaging in mental health practices, such as meditation, journaling, or scheduling a call with a counsellor or therapist. Any of these practices may help relieve your level of caregiver strain.
2. Create a Support Team
If you are taking on too much responsibility, your mental and physical health may suffer. Reach out to friends and family members, and ask for practical help when this is appropriate, and when it doesn’t put the person you’re caring for at risk: friends and loved ones may be able to assist you with transportation, food shopping, or other day-to-day tasks. It’s also important to reach out to those who are close to you for emotional support — let people you trust know if and when you are experiencing an increase in stress, anxiety, or depression, and don’t be afraid to ask for emotional support, whether through a phone call, a walk around the block, or a quick visit.
3. Get Organized
A major source of stress is feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks that need to be performed day-to-day. Starting each day with a personal plan or a to-do list can help ease this stress: looking at an organized run-down of the things that need to be done can free up your mind to focus on other things, including your mental well-being.
4. Focus on What You Can Provide
As a caregiver, you will be expected to provide emotional and physical support to a loved one. Focus on what’s doable for you, and if necessary, reach out for help with other tasks, such as physiotherapy and administering medication.
5. Seek Social Support
Reaching out to friends and family members for support could mean asking them to set aside time to talk to you about your anxieties and challenges, or requesting help with some of your day-to-day tasks. If you find yourself too busy or overwhelmed to take care of some of your own needs, such as food shopping or picking up your own medications, leverage your key relationships (close friends or family members) for help. Social relationships may help ease your caregiver burden.
6. Take Time for Yourself
You may feel guilty setting aside time for yourself when acting as a caregiver, but it’s important to remember that you will be unable to provide care if you are experiencing caregiver role strain or burnout. Set aside some time to engage in hobbies you enjoy, which will help encourage good mental health, and ensure you have time each day to unwind and decompress.
7. Be Properly Equipped
It's important to have the right tools to make your job as a caregiver as easy as possible. For more than 40 years, MIP Cares has been committed to supplying high-quality, medical-grade products to help facilitate good quality of life without compromise for caregivers and their patients. We are proud to support you while you care for others, in-home caregiver settings and beyond.