Caregiver Stress Syndrome: What It Is and Keys to Prevent It

9 June, 2021
This article has been written and endorsed by la psicóloga Paula Villasante
Staying connected with family and friends can be of great help to caregivers. This helps avoid caregiver stress syndrome.

Caregiver stress syndrome can occur in all those people who carry out continuous and uninterrupted care of a chronically ill patient. The physical, financial and emotional difficulties they may experience can negatively affect their quality of life.

This syndrome can affect all people who are in charge of being informal caregivers and who perform all the tasks of caring for dependent people. This can even lead to emotional exhaustion and depression.

This condition could be considered as a plurisymptomatic condition that can have repercussions and affect all spheres of the person, thus producing conflicts of all kinds. Caregiver stress syndrome alterations aren’t only medical in nature, but can affect the person as a whole.

Caregiver stress syndrome: what is it?

Caregiver syndrome is relatively common.
Despite the benefits of caring for a loved one, excess responsibility can backfire.

Caregiver stress syndrome is a condition characterized by physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It usually appears in a person who neglects their own emotional and physical health because they’re focusing on caring for a sick, disabled, or injured loved one.

There are several factors that can influence this syndrome. For some caregivers, the constant demands of having to care for someone with a serious illness can result in burnout. For others, the lack of boundaries between their roles as caregiver and loved one can be challenging.

Other caregivers have unrealistic expectations: they think they can do it all and refuse to ask for help. This can often be because they don’t want to be a burden to anyone.

A different class of caregivers is frustrated by the overwhelming needs of their loved one. It can also occur because of the financial and other resources needed to care for someone with a long-term illness or disability.

This syndrome is highly associated with negative health outcomes. Between 40 and 70% of caregivers suffer from depression, while many caregivers experience anxiety as a result of the stress associated with providing care.

Anger and irritability are common symptoms of caregiver syndrome. Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, and compromised immune systems.

Who suffers from the syndrome?

Informal caregivers are people in charge of caring for people who aren’t capable of carrying out basic day-to-day activities by themselves. In general, these people are usually relatives of the dependent person, especially in women.

They’re characterized by not having specific training in the field of care. Neither do they receive financial remuneration for the work they carry out, nor do they have a set schedule. Most of their time is dedicated to care tasks.

Typically, these types of caregivers take care of older people. With an aging population in a good part of the European continent, dependency situations will be more and more frequent in countries like Spain.

These types of people may need assistance from a third person to carry out the basic activities of daily life, especially those related to personal care.

There’s a typical profile of a person with caregiver stress syndrome. We’re talking here about a married, middle-aged person, with an elderly man in their charge and a medium level of education.

This type of person devotes 24 hours a day to the care of said person, thus feeling tired, unhappy, with a lack of external help and well-being.

Caregiver stress syndrome clinic

Caregiver stress syndrome is characterized by a multisymptomatic condition that usually affects all areas of a person’s life, causing frustration. These changes affect the person as a whole.

Medical disorders

In this sense, the alterations that those affected by this syndrome may suffer can affect both their physical and their mental appearance.

Physical aspects

Caregivers suffering from this syndrome show an increased vulnerability to physical problems. They can present nonspecific symptoms, such as asthenia, even reaching neurological alterations (such as insomnia, nightmares, alterations in the sleep-wake cycle…).

Infections and respiratory, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal problems are also common.

Psychic aspects

Caring for these patients involves great stress that can lead to mental disorders. Thus, a large proportion of family caregivers may suffer from sadness, fatigue and anxiety. Some existing psychiatric symptoms in the caregiver are the following:

Social disturbances

Affective and social support often fails, so many different problems can occur, such as

  • Rejection
  • Abandonment
  • Isolation
  • Decrease or loss of free time
  • Loneliness

These symptoms are identified as a major problem and thus favor the appearance of psychiatric symptoms.

In addition, it’s common for caregivers to have work problems: poor performance, stress, absenteeism, loss of the job and a loss of interest in it. Clearly, these are all symptoms that can cause conflicts at work.

Family disturbances

The socio-family role is modified and problems such as frequent discussions that lead to conflicts or family tension can arise.

A lack of collaboration between the patient’s family members can place the responsibility of the patient on a single member of the family. This is usually the closest or the one who lives with them.

There may be financial problems in this regard. The decrease in available resources both due to increased expenses and loss of income is common.

Other problems are legal, since the caregiver can assume the legal responsibility of the patient within the guardianship formula.

Signs of caregiver stress syndrome

Caregiver syndrome can be effectively addressed.
Knowing how to identify the symptoms of Caregiver Stress Syndrome will make it easier to seek help early.

As a caregiver, the person may be so focused on work that they’re unaware of their own health and well-being. So, it’s useful to be aware of the following signs that can warn you of this syndrome :

  • Constantly feeling worried or overwhelmed
  • Feeling tired often
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Sleeping too much or not getting enough sleep
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Getting easily irritated or angry
  • Having frequent headaches, body aches, or other physical problems
  • Alcohol or drug abuse, including prescription drugs.

A prolonged period of stress can be a problem for these people. In addition, they may not get enough sleep or be physically active or eat a balanced diet, which, in turn, increases the risk of medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

Keys to caregiver stress syndrome

The physical and emotional demands related to caregiving can put anyone in this situation to the test.

That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the tools and resources available to help caregivers provide the care that their loved one needs. The following may be useful strategies for managing caregiver stress syndrome.

Accept help

It’s important to be open to the ways in which people around you can help the caregiver. Letting the helper choose what he or she would like to do for him may be the best.

For example, a friend or family member may offer to take the caregiver for a walk a couple of times a week to take weight off the caregiver’s tasks. You can also offer to run an errand or cook.

What can be offered, no more

It’s normal for caregivers to feel guilty, but the truth is that there’s no “perfect” caregiver. It’s important as caregivers to keep in mind that the best decisions are made with the resources that are available (which includes mental health).

Set realistic goals

It isn’t worth trying to do all the tasks at one time. Prioritizing, making lists, and establishing a daily routine can be of great help to caregivers. Start saying “no” to what you can’t do.

Seek social support

Staying connected with family and friends who can offer emotional support may be best in these cases. This social life is crucial in this regard.

Try to take care of yourself as much as possible

Set goals to enjoy a good sleep routine, finding time to eat a healthy diet and do physical activity.

Whatever the case, trying to seek help is always the best idea. Consulting with a health professional may be necessary in these cases, as well as mentioning symptoms and concerns that the caregiver has.

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