Caregiver Stress: What You Should Know

*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
  • Sadness
  • 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.

 

The Facts about Depression

*This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of your health care or mental health provider, nor should it be used to seek help in a medical emergency. If you have any questions, please consult your health care or mental health provider.

For some EB patients and their families, it can be common for them to experience feelings of isolation or loneliness. When your own day-to-day routines and activities contrast so much from your neighbors, co-workers or the kids you go to school with, it can sometimes make one feel alone.

It’s important for these patients and caregivers as well as the friends and family members supporting them to understand the potential for depression, what it is, how to recognize it and where support can be found.

The basics:

  • What is depression? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common mental disorder that can become chronic or recurring and presents itself as displays of sadness or disinterest and impacts people of all genders, ages and backgrounds.
  • How can you recognize it? A person experiencing depression often shows signs of some of the most common physical, emotional and anxiety symptoms of depression as noted by WebMD. Among them are the following:
    • Headaches
    • Back aches
    • Digestive ailments
    • Irritability
    • Depressed mood throughout the day
    • Frequent signs of fatigue or energy loss
    • Lessened concentration or focus
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    • Differences in sleep patterns (insomnia or excess sleep)
    • Signs of disinterest in daily routines
    • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
    • Agitated restlessness or slowed-down movement or activity.
    • Significant weight loss or gain
  • What can you do to get help? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that many adults suffering from depression or anxiety have found treatment with anti-depressant drugs or other mood stabilizers, psychotherapy or use of both treatment methods to help alleviate symptoms. Another avenue is to reach out to online communities (such as through WebMD) or local entities such as DebRA for any information they may have about available support groups in your area. Talking with others who can relate to the emotional and physical symptoms you may be feeling, even if faced with different challenges, can provide a healthy channel for communication and a rich resource for coping strategies and peer support.

Depression is nothing to be ashamed of or hidden, but something to be addressed and treated. It can be an unexpected derivative of living with EB, as a patient or as a caregiver or family member. If you or someone you know requires immediate emergency assistance and shows signs of extreme depression, call 9-1-1 or the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-TALK) or go to your nearest emergency room or healthcare provider for direct help.

Sources:

WebMD
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
World Health Organization (WHO)

Related Posts:

Identify and Manage Caregiver Burnout
What to Expect in Support Groups
Addressing Confusion and Questions about EB