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Caregiver Stress: What Is It?

Summary: Caregiver stress affects caregivers’ mental, physical, and spiritual health. Some factors of caregiver stress include the age of caregivers, financial status, barriers based on race and ethnicity, location, and proximity to healthcare services. It is also important to recognize caregiver burnout symptoms and implement these caregiver stress relief tips. Estimated Read Time: 19 mins

Table of Contents:

  1. The Leading Factors of Caregiver Stress and How They Affect You
  2. Caregiver Burnout Symptoms
  3. Caregiver Stress Relief Tips

When you decide to take care of a loved one, you might be faced with caregiver stress. Caregiver stress can affect your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Overall, it’s impossible to separate the fact that caring for someone is still work, no matter how much you love them.

Caregiver stress can be problematic if you are not able to handle it. However, learning to identify caregiver burnout symptoms and how to alleviate them can improve the arrangement for all parties.

The Leading Factors of Caregiver Stress and How They Affect You

Caregiver stress is inevitable no matter how prepared you are for it, the support system you have in place, and the love you have for your family member in need.

Caregiver stress syndrome can affect your ability to provide care to those you love and negatively impact your own health. Below, we’re exploring caregiver exhaustion and a variety of factors that affect how stress can present itself.

Age of Caregivers

Age is a significant factor in experiencing caregiver stress. When you look at different generations, stress can affect them differently for a variety of reasons.

Younger generations, such as Millennials and those from Generation Z, are going to have a higher financial burden on average. This stems from having fewer years to save, lower wages, a lack of healthcare, outstanding debt associated with higher education, and more.

The added financial pressures can mean Millennials are working more hours while taking on more work as a caregiver in the first place. An equation that is destined to produce even more stress for those trying to make their way while taking care of a loved one.

Caregiving for the elderly or disabled also takes a significant amount of time and focus. Not only do younger generations take on increased financial stress in most cases, but additional stress can also come from the lack of socializing and limitations because of lifestyle changes.

It’s much harder to travel abroad, start a business, or even spend a night out with friends if you have the responsibility of someone’s healthcare in your hands. However, these limitations aren’t only for millennials. Generation X has also been affected in similar, yet different, ways.

Gen Xers may be financially better off than Millennials, but the social and lifestyle constructs still apply. Putting everything into perspective, you’ll find they are actually often worse than they are for younger generations.

A core reason behind this has to do with having a family, and the statistics affecting both generations show that Gen X is going to have more obligations to their families:

If you were to compare Generation X with Millennials at the same age, you’d note that 40% of Gen Xers would have a spouse and family compared to only 30% of Millennials.

Furthermore, simply looking at the rate of having children alone is higher in Gen X as well. Millennial women averaged 2.02 children in comparison to women in Gen X, who give birth to 2.07 children on average.

Generation X also feels more of a responsibility to take care of their parents as they age and could have additional concerns in finding emotional support for caregivers. May it be a generational difference, the natural life cycle that comes as would-be caregivers age, or because of outside factors, many Gen Xers feel that it is their duty to care for family members, resulting in an emphasized emotional component to stress they face.

All of these factors encompass the generational differences of those taking on the duties of a caregiver, but when you dive deeper, you’ll notice that individual factors can also present obstacles regardless of age.

Financial Status

The financial status of a family caregiver can impact the level the stress a caregiver may be facing during this time.

For more well-off families, they have the option and ability to pay for professional caregivers. Even if there is still a family caregiver taking on some of the responsibility, it’s a beneficial situation for wealthier homes to be able to hire help to alleviate some of the burden.

In addition, being a caregiver may mean that you are responsible for extra expenses for your household. These extra expenses can be incurred to help cover everything from healthcare to household goods to modifying a home and more.

While many family caregivers will try to work extra hours in order to increase their income, this may not be always possible. Taking care of a loved one takes time, and this could even push you or another member of your home to take on fewer hours at work. This can result in a lower level of income for your family.

It also presents challenges for future income and opportunities. Some family caregivers are forced to leave their careers or forgo advancement opportunities. Each year, it’s estimated that there are earnings totaling around $67 billion missed out on by family caregivers.

Healthcare costs and the general cost of living continue to rise, only compounding the financial problems for caregivers. The combination of decreasing wages and rising costs is one of the most common causes of caregiver stress there is. It’s also important to put things in perspective as to who faces such issues the most:

  • The level of education in relation to caregiving is notable. Not only are those without college degrees more likely to earn less, but they are also more likely to become a family caregiver with 20% of non-college graduates taking on the role. Of those with a college degree, only 15% become family caregivers, and 16% in regard to those with postgraduate degrees.
  • Income with regard to race is also part of the problem that caregivers must overcome. Both Black and Latino communities are more likely to have a home income that falls below $50,000.
  • If you are a worker and have to quit your job or cut back, you also run the risk of losing healthcare coverage that comes from your employer. This can negatively affect your ability to receive both mental and physical healthcare as needed because of the added stress of your new role.

Barriers Based on Race and Ethnicity

Caregiver stress doesn’t care about the color of your skin or where your ancestors come from, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t play a part. There are cultural differences and underlying factors that can add to the stress of becoming a family caregiver:

  • Hispanics may only represent 17% of the total number of family caregivers, but they are the most likely ethnic group to take care of their loved ones.
  • The Black community may have to overcome harsher financial hurdles compared to other races. It’s also worth mentioning that those within the Black community are a very close second when it comes to races most likely to take care of their loved ones.
  • Those within the Asian-American community often don’t live with those they take care of when compared to others. However, taking care of their family members in need remains paramount within various cultures and is part of why the Asian community deals with more emotional stress on average.
  • Finally, while white communities represent the largest population, they are also least likely to become a family caregiver. Furthermore, they also are unlikely to live with those receiving their care. A considerable challenge white Americans face when becoming a caregiver is that they are, on average, older when assuming the role than any other ethnic group.

It’s important to note that white communities faced the least amount of physical stress, overall. Ethnic minorities are facing physical hurdles as caregivers. A part of this comes from the fact that minority communities are more likely to provide more care to loved ones.

Location and Proximity to Healthcare Services

Location and proximity to healthcare services

Not all states are equal when it comes to being a caregiver. Where you live matters because it will partially determine how much healthcare expenses will cost you, as well as access to healthcare services.

When searching for affordable healthcare, caregivers tend to prioritize the healthcare of their loved ones. However, you shouldn’t overlook your own health needs.

Here are some important statistics from the CDC that can help put caregiver stress with regard to health and residence into perspective. Please note that data is not available for some states, depending on the statistics:

  • Connecticut is the best state for family caregivers, having healthcare coverage at 99.1%. Mississippi and Florida tied for the worst, with only 86.6% of family caregivers maintaining health insurance.
  • Many family caregivers are either dealing with their own chronic illnesses or are disabled themselves. This is most common in Arkansas, accounting for 58.1% of caregivers, and least common in Nebraska (33.1%).
  • If you’re more likely to have a stroke or to be affected by heart disease, it’s clear that caregiver stress can exasperate such health conditions. Sadly, Arkansas and Oklahoma lead in this category, where 20.5% of family caregivers are affected. Conversely, Hawaii is the lowest, with only 7.8% of the caregiving population facing such issues.

Location and proximity to person receiving care

It’s also important to account for caregiver stress that can stem from the distance between you and your loved one.

While many caregivers do live with their loved ones in need of care, everyone’s arrangement is different. There are many caretakers who do not live with the person they are caring for. This presents unique challenges for both parties.

Some duties of a caregiver don’t have to be done person-to-person. For example, if you have the power of authority or access to banking information, paying for a loved one’s bills, refilling their prescription, and other online tasks may not need to be conducted face-to-face.

However, other services, such as bathing, clothing, exercise, etc., are physical in nature and require an in-person contact. This is much more difficult to accomplish when the person in need of care lives outside of the family caregiver’s home and provides an added stress point.

The good news is that when you look at the current situation in the United States, many caregivers do not live comparatively far from their loved ones:

  • Most caregivers live no farther than 20 minutes from their loved one, and the trend has been increasing over the years.
  • As caregivers get older, they are more likely to live closer and closer as a result.
  • It’s also more common for those in need of a lot less care to be the ones living outside of the family caregiver’s home.

Yet, location and proximity remain a challenge for caregivers. Rural and urban settings are going to have their own unique hurdles, and dealing with them can often go overlooked until the stress of the commute has negatively affected your life:

  • Rural America skews older in age. You’ll find that over 50% are at least 50 years of age.
  • Those living in rural areas also face important healthcare issues, as nearly 25% of the elderly population have either a physical disability or chronic condition.
  • Furthermore, of that ~25%, most do not live with anyone and are also faced with economic challenges as they are either at or just above the poverty level.
  • There is also a lack of healthcare services in rural areas when compared to urban settings. Healthcare professionals are, on average, 46 miles away, which can be detrimental in an emergency and hinders the majority of family caregivers who rely on these facilities for proper care.

It’s clear that rural residents have considerable challenges receiving proper care, even with the assistance of a family caregiver. When you factor in the fact that millions of Americans provide care to loved ones, averaging 450 miles of distance between the two parties, proximity remains a major challenge for caretakers.

Of those who take on long-distance caregiving, over half of them are male. Nearly half of long-distance family caregivers are also prone to dealing with added emotional stress because of the distance between them and the person they are caring for.

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

It is important to recognize that caregiver burnout symptoms may show up differently for different people. This will depend on the conditions surrounding each family caretaker and their personality.

Because there are different signs of caregiver stress in different people, it can be difficult to spot them at times. It’s also difficult because both physical and mental stress points are going to typically take a backseat when you are taking care of your loved ones.

It is crucial for caregivers to be able to recognize caregiver stress in order to ensure the health needs of both the caregivers and their patients. Studies have shown that caregiver stress can come in many forms and give way to a lower level of care for patients as a result. Coined as a “caregiver burden,” dealing with the condition can eventually lead to “caregiver burnout” and presents a problem for all parties.

“Caregivers provide tremendous benefits for their loved ones, yet they may be at risk for lacking access to needed services which puts their health in jeopardy. We found that caregivers were more likely not to have (healthcare) coverage or forgo needed medical appointments and services. They were also at an increased risk for experiencing depression in their lifetime as compared with non-caregivers,” said the co-author of the Healthcare Coverage and Utilization Among Caregivers in the United States journal entry, Jacob Bentley, Ph.D., of Seattle Pacific University.

Here are some of the common signs of caregiver stress you’ll want to look out for:

  • Depression and feelings of negativity and loneliness are telltale signs of caregiver stress. The emotional aspects of this role should never be minimized.
  • Many family caregivers may also experience a change in their diet. This could be both a decrease or an increase in eating habits.
  • Substance abuse is never a solution, but all too often, stress can lead many down this road.
  • Disruption to your sleep is another sign of stress. You may find yourself not getting enough or simply sleeping way too much as a result of caregiver exhaustion.
  • Caring for your loved one is an action of love, but stress may lead you to mistreat them and even lead to resentment.
  • Emotional issues can also stem from caregiver stress and not only when dealing with sad emotions. Anger and irritation can arise even when dealing with smaller problems. The feeling of apathy and/or a loss of control can also affect you negatively.

These signs of caregiver stress are affecting the health of families negatively throughout the country:

  • You’re twice as likely to suffer from a chronic condition if you’re a caregiver than if you are not.
  • Several other negative health effects, such as obesity, lower immune response, and a longer time healing from wounds, have also been discovered in family caregivers.
  • For women, taking care of their spouse often means higher cholesterol, high blood pressure, and suffering from diabetes.
  • The job of a family caregiver is physical. This is why around 1 in 10 consider themselves to be physically exhausted.

The first step to managing your stress is to recognize these caregiver burnout symptoms. Caring for anyone is hard. When it’s a loved one, there are emotional stress points that can arise:

  • Mistreatment from your patient can bring on complicated emotions. This is a particular risk for those taking care of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Taking care of family is costly. Money is one of the largest points of contention for households.
  • Arguments with other family members can arise based on the proper way to maintain care for your loved one and may also spark tension both inside and outside of your home.
  • There is also the physical toll that caregiving can bring, especially as you age. Having to handle your duties as a caregiver can mean a lack of sleep, physically lifting your loved one, pushing them in a wheelchair, etc.

The sooner you learn to manage caregiver burnout symptoms, the better for everyone involved. Below are some caregiver stress relief tips to help alleviate your stress to improve your quality of life and care.

Caregiver Stress Relief Tips

Once you’ve identified causes for family caregiver stress, here are some caregiver stress relief tips to help you recharge your battery:

Ask For Help

There are many ways to ask for help, including the following:

  • Identify the areas where help is needed, communicate them with your support system, and create a plan for your family moving forward to help lighten up your stress.
  • When possible, organize your thoughts and have additional support in the beginning and through the process by working with a licensed mental health professional.

Breaking down what you do and receiving help from others isn’t just going to help your mental health and well-being but also help you not feel overwhelmed.

Set and Track Realistic Goals

The next step will be for you to set and track your goals. It’s natural to want to get everything done as fast as possible but situations and timelines can change. Focusing on getting one task completed at a time is going to help clear your mind and your checklist.

If you have multiple goals you’d like to reach, it’s important to break them up into smaller tasks that are attainable. This allows you to create a routine, prioritize tasks, and get more done. This also goes for your own needs as well as your patient’s. Here are a few steps to help you organize your goals:

  • Identify what you need to accomplish and write them down. Start with bigger overall goals and then break them down into smaller, achievable goals.
  • The smaller goals should help you move toward completing your bigger ones. Be sure to audit the process and ensure your actions are working together towards a common destination.
  • Big or small, all of your goals should be measurable. This will help you adjust as you go and track your progress.
  • Prioritize goals in order of importance.
  • Exercise patience and be realistic with your goals and yourself as you take on your caregiving journey.

Take Care of Yourself

Part of getting overwhelmed is a lack of self-care. The lack of self-care comes from ignoring one’s own needs for those of another.

Practicing healthy habits is an important step in self-care. Here are a few easy ways to take care of your mental and physical health:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Going on walks or any form of cardio
  • Lifting weights
  • Taking a class such as yoga, barre, spinning, etc.
  • Engage in brain games such as sudoku
  • Make time for your favorite hobbies, such as playing an instrument, arts and crafts, etc.

Creating a plan that fits your new lifestyle is also critical. For example, if you don’t typically eat out much, you may find yourself doing so at times because of the travel required by becoming a family caregiver combined with the lack of time to prepare a meal.

During the times when you have to or choose to enjoy a meal outside of your home, make sure that you make the healthier choice of eating a well-balanced meal from a restaurant offering healthier options vs eating at a traditional fast food joint.

This principle doesn’t just exist with dieting but for anything that will help you maintain your health. Doing the little things doesn’t just add up but provides healthy guidelines that can keep you on the right track.

Connect With Resources

Learning about basic healthcare and caregiving techniques can help you navigate daily caregiving tasks with more efficiency. This can be through connecting with the experienced people in your area to help you maintain self-care. Another way will be to search for caregiving classes in your area taught by professionals to learn imperative skills for being a caregiver.

Additionally, being a part of a community can also be helpful. While you’ll want to confirm with your patient’s healthcare providers before implementing anything that may conflict with their treatment, gaining insight from others in your area can be helpful. It’s also nice to have someone who understands what you’re going through.

Even if you aren’t part of a formal community featuring fellow family caregivers, it’s still important to have someone to lean on. Simply going for a walk in the park or taking a class related to a hobby and having someone to talk to can go a long way.

Avoid Procrastination

When you notice caregiver stress, it’s important to act as soon as possible. This helps you avoid spiraling and can get you back on track quicker. It’s easy to think about getting to things later, but remember, deferring self-care is one of the reasons caregivers experience unhealthy levels of stress in the first place.

Set Expectations and Boundaries

Setting expectations about caring for a loved one with your family helps set healthy boundaries while giving you more time to devote to your own well-being.

For example, taking vacations, late-night adventures, and other activities that may keep you away from home may need to shift. Because your lifestyle is changing, you’re going to need to adjust. Boundaries help you maintain proper care and balance your own life:

  • If you are usually helping take care of another family member’s children, maybe now is the time for you to let them know that they will need to make a different childcare arrangement.
  • If your home is the family gathering place for the weekends, during the holidays, or after a big event, let your family members know if this is no longer possible and make other arrangements for the family instead.
  • The same goes for hosting family traveling out of town to stay with you. It’s great to have extra room for family, but when that space, time, and energy needs to be directed towards a loved one in need of help, shift priorities.
  • Part of being a good family caretaker is self-care, and you can communicate to your loved ones that you have set aside dedicated time for your own self-care. This may be taking time for a walk, for a hobby, or going to the gym. As the old saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
  • Boundaries aren’t just for home either. You’ll want to set professional but firm boundaries if you are still working as well. This will help to manage expectations from your colleagues and supervisors at work.

Staying informed is a great way to mitigate caregiver stress. Through education and preparation, you position yourself to provide the best possible care. Keep reading to discover how to qualify as a caregiver under Medicare rules and potential avenues for compensation.

Sources

MedicareFAQ is dedicated to providing you with authentic and trustworthy Medicare information. We have strict sourcing guidelines and work diligently to serve our readers with accurate and up-to-date content.

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  2. As Millennials Near 40, They’re Approaching Family Life Differently Than Previous Generations, Pew Research Center. Accessed December 2023.
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  3. Financial interventions for family caregivers of individuals with chronic illness: a scoping review protocol, NLM. Accessed December 2023.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9379508/
  4. How does a college degree improve graduates’ employment and earnings potential?, APLU. Accessed December 2023.
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  6. Caregiver Statistics: Demographics, FCA. Accessed December 2023.
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    https://www.apa.org/pi/about/publications/caregivers/faq/cultural-diversity
  8. Caregiving for Family and Friends — A Public Health Issue, CDC. Accessed December 2023.
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  11. The Reality of Being a Caregiver: Signs of Stress and How to Prevent Burnout, Penn Medicine. Accessed December 2023.
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Kayla Hopkins

Kayla Hopkins

Content Editor
Kayla Hopkins is an accomplished writer and Medicare guru serving as the Editor of MedicareFAQ.com. Upon completing her Communications degree from Ohio University, Kayla dedicated her time to understanding the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare. With her extensive background as a Licensed Medicare Insurance Agent, she brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her writing.
Ashlee Zareczny

Ashlee Zareczny

Compliance Manager
Ashlee Zareczny is the Compliance Manager for MedicareFAQ. As a licensed Medicare agent in all 50 states, she is dedicated to educating those eligible for Medicare by providing the necessary resources and tools. Additionally, Ashlee trains new and tenured Medicare agents on CMS compliance guidelines. Ashlee is a Medicare expert who specializes in Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D education.

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