You, my friend, are a caregiver to your people. You feed them, clothe them, and make sure they don’t leave the house with food on their face. You support their emotions like an underwire bra.
You are a woman on the run.
Appointments, classes, and errands.
At home, you are a productive beast trying to balance time with your loved ones and your home and with all the things that have inevitably fallen through the cracks.
Didn’t we have a filing system at one point? Where did all this paper come from?
And oops, you forgot about an appointment last week.
Your forgetful moments are becoming more common. So is your negative self-talk.
You probably wonder how other moms manage to look so good being a mom. That hasn’t been your experience at all. You wonder if you missed a memo somewhere.
Frazzled is a good word to use, isn’t it?
On top of it, you might feel angry or even resentful at your loved ones. Why do you have to do all this work? Good grief, that man you married should lift a finger more often. And you probably wish your sister or other relatives would stop asking you for favors because don’t they know that you are busy?
And you suddenly feel like a giant jerk because you are snapping at everyone and blowing up like Mount Saint Helens over the smallest things.
You might have even made a few people cry or upset at you.
This only adds to your guilt and shame. You are just trying to keep your head above the current. Can’t they see that?
And you keep going because you have to. Who else is going to do all this laundry, run all these errands, and fix everything?
Do they make asylums for stressed-out moms? They might need to make that a thing.
Take a deep breath, my friend. It’ll be ok.
If you have ever read anything about burnout, this could be you. And it happens to the very best of us…whoever “the best” really is anyways.
What is caregiver stress?
Often times, articles that address caregiver burnout or stress will talk about taking care of aging parents. They don’t often mention how hard parenting is. It’s almost as if they are saying “Your kids aren’t stressful. I’ll show you stressful”. But parenting isn’t as easy as we thought.
Today’s families have all kinds of issues from mental health struggles to difficult diagnoses to health problems that you never expected would happen to your family. And the ones who carry the weight of that are usually the moms. Women are twice as likely to develop anxiety disorders than men are.
And don’t get me wrong. Men can struggle too (they make sure to let us know this…ever heard of a man cold?) But since I focus on women and helping them, I address the struggles women go through. Because we often do it in silence and without much support.
But what if you aren’t dealing with children? What if it is a parent or grandparent or other loved one?
Caregiver stress can be anyone you take care of and are responsible for. The main reason a woman might have this stress is that they fail to prioritize themselves. That’s not criticism. Sometimes we fail to prioritize ourselves because society, our husbands, our children, or even how we were raised has taught us to put ourselves last.
And we all know what happens to those who get picked last…
What are the signs of caregiver stress?
If you are emotionally, physically, or mentally exhausted, you might have caregiver stress.
I used to homeschool my special needs daughter. I also had two other children at home. Then my middle child hit the pre-teen years and we were suddenly a household that spent all our time in therapy offices due to depression and special needs. On top of it, there was talk of suicide and confusing behaviors. I spent a good amount of my time hiding sharp objects and crying.
I was so tired. I wanted to run away from my life.
I thought my kids needed therapy, but actually I probably needed it more. So I took a deep breath and made that appointment.
And I ended up hating my therapist!
She was condescending and made me feel worse about myself. She would make me feel bad for how I felt. And she loved to play devil’s advocate. And I was getting stressed out whenever I had to see her.
Instead of quitting, I requested a new therapist. I wanted to cry tears of joy when I realized it was the right one because I felt validated and understood. I no longer felt like a crazy loser with crazy children.
And things slowly improved.
I learned I had to start putting things in the correct order.
- My husband wasn’t more important than me.
- My daughter with special needs wasn’t more important than me.
- My daughter’s depression didn’t trump my own depression.
- Things would not fall apart if I didn’t do them.
It all mattered, but I had to take care of me. I couldn’t keep running on empty like I was.
The first thing I did was start asking for help. If that didn’t work, I would assert myself and say, “It’s not fair that all of this is up to me. I really need help.”
Sometimes your family is used to you being a doormat.
The second thing I did was to let things go. No guilt. No shame. Just living unapologetically knowing my limits.
One day, I was in rare form–tired and exhausted from everything. I was juggling the homeschooling gig, working from home, trying to remain sane.
I started making dinner, but then my husband came over to inform me how I was doing it incorrectly. I placed the ladle on the stove, went over to the couch and propped up my feet. He looked at me puzzled and asked why I wasn’t making dinner. I replied, “Because you are so good at it, you should just do it.”
(Husbands sometimes need to know that “help” doesn’t mean you micro-manage your wife.)
And let me tell you, when I started speaking up, things started to change.
I made some tough decisions, such as sending my kids off to school (where they miraculously thrived without me!) and allowing them to deal with the consequences of their own actions (instead of having me step in all the time for every potentially triggering thing). You can’t own what isn’t yours. You have to own your own stuff and let your kids or loved ones own theirs. Even if we feel sorry for them or want to protect them. That’s a disservice to take that on. Allowing them to fall, fail, and figure things out is a gift.
Resolve to Put Yourself First
You are not helpless either. You have a voice that you can use to ask for help, assert your boundaries, and bounce back from burnout. You have to fight for your health.
If you don’t believe me, let’s take a closer look at what you have to lose.
Caregiver.com states these statistics for people with caregiver burnout (emphasis mine):
- 11% of caregivers state that their role has caused their physical health to decline
- 45% of caregivers reported chronic conditions, including heart attacks, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis;
- Caregivers have a 23% higher level of stress hormones and 15% lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers,
- 10% of primary caregivers report that they are under physical stress from the demands of assisting their loved one physically
- Women who spend 9 or more hours a week caring for a spouse increased their risk of heart disease by 100%;
- 72% of caregivers report that they had not gone to the doctor as often as they should have;
- 58% of caregivers state that their eating habits are worse than before they assumed this role;
- Caregivers between the ages of 66 and 96 have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age.
As you can see, stress isn’t something to mess around with.
So how can you overcome burnout while still providing care to your loved ones?
- Ask for help. Even if you just need a half-hour break, you need to let your family or friends know that you are struggling. Don’t assume they’ll notice. In addition, there are always things you can take off your plate and say “no” to. Many of us have a savior complex and have a hard time letting go. But you need to let certain things go so you can prioritize your health.
- Take a break or enjoy an activity alone. Find something you enjoy to do. Take time for yourself daily and learn to love your hobbies and activities again.
- Sleep. Get as much sleep as you can. Maybe when you first ask for help, use that time to rest. It’s amazing how tired we can get from caring for others. Catnaps are wonderful!
- Go out with a friend and have fun. Don’t talk about your loved one unless you really need support. Focus on fun and relaxation.
- Make time to see a therapist. I can’t tell you how much this helped me. It was so eye-opening for me to see how much I had allowed in my own life. Having a therapist challenge my thinking really made a huge difference. If you can’t afford a therapist, you can always journal, read helpful books, and learn more about your relationships and emotions.
- Prioritize your health. See a doctor, visit your optometrist, get your teeth cleaned! These things won’t fix themselves. If you want to be around longer for your children and family, plan your annual visits and stick to them.
- Go for a walk. Walking is known to be a great stress reliever. Obviously, when you are exhausted, you’ll not want to exercise. That’s ok. Once you start feeling a little better, maybe take 10 minutes and walk around your neighborhood enjoying the scenery. Get some fresh air and get out of the house. Eventually, you’ll want to get your heart rate up to see the real benefits of stress relief through exercise.
- Create something. Maybe you enjoy cooking desserts, watercolor painting, or building birdhouses. Find something you enjoy and spend time doing that each week. You will feel proud of the end result and it will help relieve your tension and stress.
- Try essential oils. Use essential oils in a bath, in your favorite lotion, or even in a shampoo. You don’t need much, but these are known to be calming and help you during times of stress.
- Do nothing. Maybe you just need a day of nothingness. Allow yourself to do nothing at all. Sit in your sweats, hair uncombed, and teeth unbrushed. We all need those days where we are allowed to just be lazy bums. Check out my video below and catch me doing just that!
The main point here is to really take a look at your life and prioritize yourself. Maybe you just take one of these 10 points and try it for a week. If all you can do is that one thing, you have already done more than you did last week!
Here’s a video I made about why we struggle to let go of stress. I hope it helps you and encourages you as a caretaker to continue toward a healthier version of you.