*The information provided in this blog is not medical advice and is not intended to, and does not, replace the advice provided by your health care professional. Always seek advice from your licensed healthcare professional in regards to your healthcare needs.
When we take care of others, it’s easy to forget to mindfully take care of ourselves. We’ve gathered some valuable information from helpful resources in the healthcare community to remind us of who can be most vulnerable to caregiver stress, what signs to look for, and what we can do to try to safeguard our own health and well-being from stress.
Who is at risk? The Mayo Clinic staff points out in a piece titled “Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself” that there are factors that can make us especially susceptible to stress as caregivers. Among these factors are the following: being female; living with the person we are caring for; social isolation; financial difficulties; higher number of hours spent caregiving; and lack of choice in being a caregiver.
According to The U.S. Office on Women’s Health, in its Caregiver Stress Fact Sheet, 61% of caregivers are women. I certainly see it on a regular basis myself out in the EB community and at events. I meet up with parents who have chosen to be their child’s primary caregiver, and often that parent is the mother. But let’s not forget that there are fathers who are primary caregivers, too, and they are also very susceptible to stress.
The U.S. Office on Women’s Health goes on to note that 59% of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to the time they invest in caring for another person. Due to their caregiving commitment, more than half of these employed women caregivers have adjusted their work schedule to either leave early, arrive late or reduce their hours. Making changes like that on top of the existing stress of the caregiving process can put added stress on an individual or her family already facing existing life balance challenges as well as the financial strain from mounting healthcare bills. Adding to that a possible decrease in income may only compound the stress for that caregiver.
So how can we identify the early signs of stress? In that same article, the Mayo Clinic notes the following indicators that stress may be settling in for you as a caregiver:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired much of the time
- Too much or too little sleep
- Gain or loss in weight
- Easily irritated or angered
- Loss of interest in activities we once enjoyed
- Frequent headaches, body pain or other physical ailments
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescriptions
Many of these probably sound familiar to a lot of us but to a caregiver they can be a particularly dangerous red flag that stress has taken over because it is hard to care for someone else if we put our own health in jeopardy. We must get our own stress under control first and learn how to manage the challenges we face before we can be the steady, calm source of care and comfort as a caregiver to a loved one relying on us for support.
What can we do to better manage our stress as caregivers? WebMD offers some helpful suggestions in its article “Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress” of things you can do to help reduce or control stress levels. Relaxation methods like guided imagery, mind relaxation, deep breathing and biofeedback, among other techniques can strengthen the mind and body to weather the physical storm that stress can deliver to slow down or set back any caregiver, especially one trying to balance work outside the home with caregiving at home. And nothing tests our emotional fortitude like watching our children facing pain on a daily basis pain and trying to overcome their own physical and emotional challenges.
The greatest advice I would give any caregiver personally would be to ask for help. Sometimes we can be wary of asking others for even the smallest shred of support but there are people out here in the community, as families, healthcare professionals and those of us in the wound care field who may have witnessed and experienced EB from a number of vantages. We are all here to provide whatever guidance, comfort, answers or support we can. Never let the stress of caring for your loved one lead you to feeling isolated. You are not alone.