Can Caregiver Stress Affect My Health?

Caregiving can be a risky business, especially if the caregiver experiences it as highly stressful.  There are many ways in which the stress of caregiving can impact the caregiver’s health. Here’s a short list of common health issues that one might experience if the stress is persistent:

  • Depression and anxiety.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • Excessive weight and obesity; or the opposite, difficulty eating and unwanted weight loss.
  • Problems with short-term memory or paying attention.
  • Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
  • Depression and obesity can raise the risk of chronic illnesses even more.

It’s easy to slip into denial about these kinds of problems. You might hear yourself saying (as I do), “Oh, it just 10 pounds I put on over the pandemic, I’ll get it off eventually!” or “Of course my arthritis is worse than it was, I’m 10 years older too! It’s a chronic, progressive disease!” or even, “I’m sad a lot, but I don’t think I’m depressed – I mean, I am totally functional!”

These are (literally) things I have heard myself saying – probably not out loud, but certainly in my head – and if you’re saying anything similar, it may be time to get some help.

I find it is easy to make excuses for things that simply shouldn’t be the norm, but they are because I’m a caregiver.  And, because I’m a caregiver, my LIFE isn’t “normal.” My life is relentlessly stressful, full of responsibilities, isolated because of my husband’s limitations, and continuously full of grief.

When you’re a caregiver, you may tend to normalize these experiences (yep, I do that too) reminding yourself, “It is what it is!” but that doesn’t mean it is easy, or that you’re not suffering the effects of the burden you carry. Getting honest with yourself about what’s going on in your life (the quality of your life) is as important as being real about the illness or condition your loved-one endures.

Two black women sit on an outdoor bench, with green plants in the background, in conversation. It appears that they are offering each other support while in conversation.

What might “help” look like? Every caregiver is unique and what’s best for one of us might not be what’s helpful for everyone else.  I can speak for myself (and maybe encourage you) by offering you 10 kinds of “help” I find most valuable (for managing MY stress):

  • I keep a psychologist on speed-dial – because I learned a long time ago that it is good to have a safe place to speak one’s truth, no matter how ugly it sounds.  A psychologist is a goo place to start, especially if you might be depressed and in need of medication.
  • I’ve engaged the services of a PM&R physician (Physical & Rehabilitative Medicine) – I did this seeking treatment for hip pain (something I’ve blamed on my arthritis) that turned out to be bilateral bursitis. Cortisone injections should reduce the inflammation and help me move with less pain.
  • I see a chiropractor for the persistent pain in my neck & shoulders – again, thinking it was only arthritis, but no, it was a bit of scoliosis and a number of bone-spurs, so regular adjustment visits seem helpful.
  • I practice yoga – I’ve been enjoying local classes for years but, the yoga center near my house is closing, so I’ll need to get creative and build my practice at home if I plan to continue (which I do!).
  • I have coffee with other coaches – not because the coffee is therapeutic, but because the conversation with other coaches is! Making time for positive relationships (no matter how busy you are) is beneficial for anyone!
  • I make regular use of an adult daycare – no, not for me, for my husband, which gives me 18 hours each week (there’s 168 hours in a week) to accomplish all the things that I need to do alone (like my own medical visits and the occasional shopping trip).
  • I track what I eat – because it is easy for me to become mindless about my eating and then be surprised when my weight increases – writing it down keeps me in check.
  • I practice meditation – for me, it is a morning practice and one for which I rely on an audio technology that helps to quickly move my brain to a deeply relaxed state and helps manage my naturally reactive way of being. It keeps me equilibrated.
  • I work on getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night – I say WORK on it because I’m still not consistently successful; but it is my daily intention and I am getting better at scheduling my bedtime.
  • I ask for help – probably my most useful pursuit of help because it forces me to acknowledge what I need and to get very specific about what would be most useful. Sometimes that’s a sitter (for some extra time alone) and sometimes it’s a walking partner for a woodland excursion.

I can’t predict what sort of help might be most important to you or to other caregivers. We all have needs and we all face risks, especially when stress ramps up. Whatever your particular circumstances, whatever is driving your stress, it may be important to stop making excuses and reach out for some assistance that could impact your wellbeing in a meaningful way! As aways, let me know if I can help!

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!

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About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

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How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.

How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.