Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself

Caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you're a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

As the population ages, more people are doing caregiving. About 1 in 3 adults in the United States is an informal or family caregiver.

A caregiver is anyone who helps another person in need. A person in need might be an ill spouse or partner, a child with a disability, or an aging friend or relative.

Caregivers report higher levels of stress than do people who are not caregivers. It's important for caregivers to know that they, too, need help and support.

Caregiving is rewarding but stressful

Caregiving can have many rewards. For most caregivers, caring for a loved one feels good. And it can make your relationship stronger.

But the demands of caregiving also cause emotional and physical stress. It's common to feel angry, frustrated, worn out or sad. And it's common to feel alone.

Caregiver stress can put caregivers at risk of changes in their own health. Factors that can increase caregiver stress include:

  • Caring for a spouse.
  • Living with the person who needs care.
  • Caring for someone who needs constant care.
  • Feeling alone.
  • Feeling helpless or depressed.
  • Having money problems.
  • Spending many hours caregiving.
  • Having too little guidance from health care professionals.
  • Having no choice about being a caregiver.
  • Not having good coping or problem-solving skills.
  • Feeling the need to give care at all times.

Signs of caregiver stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't see how caregiving affects your own health and well-being. The signs of caregiver stress include:

  • Feeling burdened or worrying all the time.
  • Feeling tired often.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Gaining or losing weight.
  • Becoming easily irked or angry.
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Feeling sad.
  • Having frequent headaches or other pains or health problems.
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medicines.
  • Missing your own medical appointments.

Too much stress over time can harm your health. As a caregiver, you might feel depressed or anxious. You might not get enough sleep or physical activity. Or you might not eat a balanced diet. All of these increase your risk of health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Tips to manage caregiver stress

The emotional and physical demands of caregiving can strain even the strongest person. Many resources and tools can help you care for your loved one and yourself. Make use of them. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to care for anyone else.

To help manage caregiver stress:

  • Ask for and accept help. Make a list of ways in which others can help you. Then let them choose how to help. Ideas include taking regular walks with the person you care for, cooking a meal for you and helping with medical appointments.
  • Focus on what you can do. At times, you might feel like you're not doing enough. But no one is a perfect caregiver. Believe that you're doing the best you can.
  • Set goals you can reach. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Make lists of what's most important. Follow a daily routine. Say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting meals for holidays or other occasions.
  • Get connected. Learn about caregiving resources in your area. There might be classes you can take. You might find caregiving services such as rides, meal delivery or house cleaning.
  • Join a support group. People in support groups know what you're dealing with. They can cheer you on and help you solve problems. A support group also can be a place to make new friends.
  • Seek social support. Stay connected to family and friends who support you. Make time each week to visit with someone, even if it's just a walk or a quick cup of coffee.
  • Take care of your health. Find ways to sleep better. Move more on most days. Eat a healthy diet. Drink plenty of water.

    Many caregivers have trouble sleeping. Good sleep is important for health. If you have trouble getting a good night's sleep, talk to your health care professional.

  • See your health care professional. Get the vaccines you need and regular health screenings. Tell your health care professional that you're a caregiver. Talk about worries or symptoms you have.

Respite care

It may be hard to leave your loved one in someone else's care. But taking a break can be one of the best things you do for yourself and the person you're caring for. Types of respite care include:

  • In-home respite. Health care aides come to your home to spend time with your loved one or give nursing services or both.
  • Adult care centers and programs. There are centers that give day care for older adults. Some also care for young children. The two groups might spend time together.
  • Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people who need care for short stays while caregivers are away.

Working outside the home

Caregivers who work outside the home can feel burdened. If this describes you, think about taking a leave from your job for a time if you can afford to do so.

Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about choices for unpaid leave.

You aren't alone

Ask for the help you need. Besides asking family and friends, use local resources for caregivers.

To start, check out the national Eldercare Locator or contact your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about services in your area. Or try your state's Aging and Disability Resource Center. You can find these resources online or in a telephone directory.

There also are mobile apps and web-based services that give support to caregivers. These services can help build coping skills and teach about caregiving.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Aug. 09, 2023 See more In-depth