What is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?
Dr Alipta Jena

Dr Alipta Jena

Jan 09Mental health

What is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?

Caregiver stress syndrome is a condition characterised by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion in persons who have been caring for chronically ill persons or children with learning and other disabilities.

It typically results from a person neglecting their own physical and emotional health and sometimes careers, because they are focused on caring for an ill, injured or disabled loved one.

If you have been feeling exhausted, frustrated and besieged or have been experiencing increased levels of stress, you are not alone.

Caring for your loved ones over an extended period of time can be quite daunting, and place a great deal of pressure on a person.

Some of the common symptoms of caregiver stress are-

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep.
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems

In the daily routine of providing care to their loved ones, a caregiver often fails to neglect their own needs for rest and recreation.

caregiver stress syndrome



Causes of mental stress in caregivers

Uncertainty over illness: If you’re in the position of caring for someone with cancer or another serious disease, you’re probably also dealing with concerns for your loved one’s future. If you’re caring for a child with special needs, there may be uncertainty as to how to proceed. Being in the position of being a caregiver usually carries some heavy responsibilities.

Financial pressure: Over the years, bills for doctors, medicines and therapy piles up and caregivers often find themselves facing financial pressures as well.

Isolation and loneliness: Often, while giving one’s time to someone who requires constant care, a caregiver can feel isolated and cut-off from society, normal activities for recreation and the rest of the world.

The caregiver might find themselves confined to the house for longer periods of time. This makes it difficult for them to get time out for recreational activities, exercise, connect with others, and do the things that help to reduce stress.

Little or no ‘Me-time’: Most caregivers may feel cut off and isolated while others might be left with very little time out for themselves.

The stress of getting little time alone can feel confusing for someone who also feels isolated, but both feelings can coexist with caregivers, causing their stress to multiply.

Constant demands for care: Many caregivers find themselves caught up round the clock and most times of the day. Some spend virtually every free moment attending to the needs of their loved one.

Since they never know when they might be needed, caregivers often find themselves at attention all the time. This prevents them from relaxing at any point of time. The feeling of “always being on duty” can take a heavy toll on a caregiver.

Overwhelming guilt: Sometimes the caregivers feel burnt out and have feelings of guilt about being disheartened or weary. There may also be guilt if the loved one is not showing signs of improvement or being as comfortable as they could be.

Role reversal: If you are taking care of an elderly person, particularly a parent, it can be difficult to see someone who’s traditionally been in the role of caring for you to be now in the opposite role.

It pains us to see them in need for help, for basic activities like getting dressed or taking a bath.

As a caregiver, it might be difficult to see your loved one in such a vulnerable position.

These are just a few of the causes that lead to feelings of stress in caregivers.

The greater burden for women caregivers

An article, on “An asymmetric burden: Experiences of men and women as caregivers of people with psycho-social disabilities in rural North India” by Kaaren Mathias, Michelle Kermode, Miguel San Sebastian, Bhargavi Davar, Isabel Goicolea, first published in August 24, 2018 in Transcultural Psychiatry, analyses the experiences of caregivers of people with psychosocial disabilities (PPSDs) using relational gender theory.

In-depth interviews with female and male caregivers probed the social, emotional and health impacts of their caregiving role.

Nine themes were identified that were grouped under three meta-themes: intra-personal, interpersonal and institutional impacts.

Under the intra-personal meta-theme, all caregivers experienced high tension, with women describing almost overwhelming stress.

Women minimised their role as caregivers, and felt negative and hopeless about their futures, while men had a more positive view of the future.

Embodied experiences of psychological and social distress were consistently described by women, but not by men.

Within the interpersonal meta-theme, men experienced opportunities for social connection and social support that were seldom available to women.

Within the institutional meta-theme, both men and women described strength in unity, and gestures leading to the reordering of gender relations.

The findings point to the urgent need for global mental health policies that support and empower caregivers and strengthen gender equality.

Staying positive during burnout

Feeling stress and physical fatigue are natural reactions for caregivers, particularly as they are facing significant pressures every single day of their lives.

If you have been in a caregiver role for quite a while or face a great deal of responsibility as a caregiver, and it’s important to find an outlet for your stress.

Make staying positive and yourself a priority

It’s important to make self-care a priority. A caregiver and full time professional also tells us: “Counting blessings is a very important thing. Counting your blessings is a big thing to reduce stress and to look upon a brighter side.”

The caregiver tells us, “This awareness came to me much later when I took a psychometric personality assessment. I realized that one of the talents I am born with is that I am a very positive thinker. Looking at what works in a situation is a very good thing. One must look at the glass as half full.”

“I also have the inherent trait of a deep-down belief that whatever happens in life is for a reason which is beyond our understanding.

The kindness of friends, family, and random strangers is also big support and I thank god for it,” she added.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

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