5 Tips for Dealing with Caregiver Role Strain

Becoming a caregiver can be rewarding yet draining at the same time. Read on to learn more about caregiver role strain and how to prevent it.

Aging in Place
December 22, 2021
5 Tips for Dealing with Caregiver Role Strain
An old person and a young person play cards over a wooden table.
Image: Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger on Unsplash

Being the primary caregiver for a family member is a rewarding, yet challenging experience. You’re tasked with providing primary care for someone you love and is in need, without necessarily the proper support yourself. 

In fact, according to AARP, there were an estimated 53 million unpaid family caregivers in America in 2020. When compounded by the fact that the majority of caregivers also work a paid job—it becomes clear how those hours of labor can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, resulting in caregiver fatigue. 

Caregiver strain is a persistent problem in the care community—one that, if left unaddressed, can lead to unmet needs or premature institutionalization of care-recipients. 

But what exactly is caregiver fatigue, what does it look like, and how can you prevent it while providing family caregiving services? 

What Are Signs of Caregiver Strain?

Oftentimes when aging parents can't live alone, a family member may need to step in as a caregiver. However, providing primary care can sometimes include playing multiple roles, which can lead to caregiver stress and strain. Caregiver role strain is a form of exhaustion that can impact all parts of the individual’s life, including physical, mental, emotional, and psychological symptoms. 

Although strain can show up differently in people, a few common symptoms of caregiver strain include: 

  • Insomnia or other sleep problems
  • Chronic tiredness and exhaustion
  • Feelings of depression, including hopelessness, alienation, helplessness, irritability
  • Social withdrawal 
  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Struggle to meet responsibilities 
  • Resentment towards loved one
  • Overreactions to minor events 

Laura Kotler-Klein (MSS, LCSW, DSW), a Social Work Manager at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, notes that these symptoms—especially when unaddressed—intensify: “If the stress of caregiving isn’t addressed, it can lead to health problems, such as depression, anxiety, obesity and serious chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.”

What Are The 2 Common Stressors as a Caregiver?

Although there are many forms of stress that may impact your caregiving, two common stresses show up repeatedly in cases of caregiver fatigue: 

  1. Powerlessness – Feeling like a situation is completely out of your control is one of the top contributors to caregiver burnout. In times of feeling powerless, it’s important to remember that while you may not be able to change everything about a situation, you can control your state of mind. This includes small actions and mindset shifts that can have cascading positive effects. 
  1. Boundaries – Navigating your new role as a caregiver for a family member, such as a parent who isn’t used to receiving care, is stressful territory. The role can be particularly difficult if you set high (or unrealistic) expectations for yourself. Feeling overworked can also contribute to feelings of burnout and fatigue. When overwhelmed, community-based caregiver organizations can be a support system that allows you to navigate these complex boundaries. 

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Which Behaviors Are Commonly Associated With Caregiver Role Strain?

One of the most common behaviors that can lead to caregiver fatigue or burnout is self-neglect. If your own personal needs have taken a back seat to those of your loved one, you may find yourself struggling to stay afloat. 

Many of the signs of caregiver role strain are rooted in not having enough time to yourself. Don’t ignore your body’s signals that you are under chronic stress. Managing your own physical and mental health and well-being will ensure that you’re able to continue providing quality care for loved ones. 

The airplane adage couldn’t be more true in the scenario of caregiving—you must put on your own “oxygen mask” before assisting others. 

How to Prevent Caregiver Fatigue

Whether you're wanting to learn how to become a caregiver for a family member or you've already been providing care, it's important to understand how to care for yourself first. An instrumental way to prevent caregiver role strain is by prioritizing your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being, allowing the best version of yourself to provide the needed care. 

When this feels like an impossible task, consider these tips from experts: 

  • Share the load – If you’re overwhelmed, the first step on your list should be to call for additional help. This could be from other family members, or a dedicated service like formal respite care (which includes adult day care, in-home companionship, or short-term nursing homes). Even if this is temporary, this first step will build breathing room for you to consider all options. 
  • Take advantage of resources – There are many resources and organizations specifically formulated to help you navigate your role as a family caregiver. If you have questions about health, finances, legal matters, transportation, or even home meal delivery, contact the National Alliance for Caregivers for resources on family caregiving 
  • Build community – Sometimes all you need is to talk to someone who will understand. There may be a local caregivers support group in your area where you can go for connection and advice. Facebook groups and internet forums may also be helpful places for a digital community. Building or joining a family caregiver community can be especially beneficial for many reasons from social support in aiding with caregiver stress to mental health and wellness support. 
  • Set personal health goals – You’re more likely to stay committed to maintaining your health if you set specific goals for yourself. Whether you want to run a marathon, swim 20 laps, or cook healthier meals, setting goals for yourself can help realign your focus onto your personal well-being. 

Should financial barriers be locking you into an uncomfortable situation while you are caring for a loved one, know that there are options available.

Ease Financial Homecare Stress With Truehold 

It’s always when there are a million other tasks to focus on—refilling prescriptions, cooking dinner, driving your loved one to an appointment—that the roof decides to leak or the dishwasher breaks. 

When financial strain comes, you can use your home’s equity to keep you grounded. 

At Truehold, we offer a sale-leaseback solution that allows you and your loved one to stay for as long as you’d like and we’ll cover everything from upkeep to taxes and insurance. You’ll only have to pay utilities and month rent, which is at a fair market rate.

Truehold’s Sale-Leaseback solution is fully committed to supporting caregivers and their loved ones by easing the stress of home maintenance. Give us a call today—one of our advisers will help you determine if Truehold is a good addition to your caregiving plan. 

Sources: 

1. ARP Public Policy Institute. Caregiving in the United States 2020. https://www.aarp.org/ppi/info-2020/caregiving-in-the-united-states.html 

2. Penn Medicine. The Reality of Being a Caregiver: Signs of Stress and How to Prevent Burnout. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/december/signs-of-caregiver-stress 

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