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How do I Relieve Caregiver Strain?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Caregiver strain can be defined as the high amount of stress a person who is a caregiver, professionally or a caregiver of a family member, may feel in the work they do. Especially for people who take care of a family member, the inordinate amount of stress that can accumulate is significant and may impact physical and mental health. With greater numbers of people assuming this role, especially in the care of aging parents, it is important to recognize the potential for great emotional stress and learn ways to cope with or relieve it.

Perhaps the best first step for a person working as a caregiver is to understand the nature of the care required based on illness a person has. Taking care of someone with cancer who is dying may have very different requirements than taking care of an adult with Alzheimer’s disease or a child with a severe illness. Understanding what is needed and what is likely to occur as a disease progresses can be of great use, since there may be fewer unpredictable moments that could significantly add to caregiver strain.

In understanding the disease, people should also be aware of any general or specific organizations that provide support features for people with that disease or families affected by it. These may vary by community, but one valuable thing to find is opportunities for respite. This is when someone else comes into the home to provide care for a set period of time so the primary caregiver can take a break.

It is vital to find a way to take breaks because providing care 24/7 leaves no time to take care of the self. In fact, studies on caregivers show they often neglect to do important things like getting yearly health screenings, which may not only add to stress, but may also shorten lifespan. If there is no respite care in the community, people should investigate other potential scenarios. These could include day care hospitals or programs, and temporary hospitalization. Another alternative is to share caregiving responsibilities with other family members.

When possible, a daily break is most advantageous, and caregiver strain may be relieved by moments of alone time. It’s not a bad idea to get some exercise in on these planned breaks, since this is a natural stress reliever. A number of people also suffer because financial pressure may increase as a result of caregiving. It could help to explore options for government assistance or private assistance from charities if money begins to get tight.

One significant contribution to caregiver strain may be lack of sleep. Many people cannot sleep easily or well due to the expression of another person’s illness. Lack of sleep has direct association with development of depression, and it’s important people look for ways to try to handle this. They might use a video monitor or baby monitor to hear if a person needs help in the night, or they could perhaps hire a night nurse or caregiver that watches at night. It’s highly recommended that people try to get a full eight hours of sleep, since this can correspond to lower stress levels.

There are a few emotions common to caregiver strain. These include feeling guilt that a person is not providing the most perfect care. Another emotion that many feel is grief and/or resentment. Most people have complex feelings that can even be direct opposites, which is confusing and painful. Getting support to deal with these overwhelming emotions is another way to relieve caregiver strain. Help could be available through a private counselor or a support group (or both). Being able to talk about feelings with others who can understand them can prove very useful.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By mrwormy — On Jan 17, 2015

My church has a volunteer program to help relieve caregiver strain. Since most of the congregation is elderly themselves, they understand how stressful it is to be a family caregiver. They take turns caring for the elderly while the regular caregivers take the day off. It's really helped some people avoid caregiver burnout, since they can take care of some personal business and not have to constantly worry about someone else's well-being.

I know I experienced a little caregiver stress when I had to take care of my uncle for three months while he was in rehab. I can't imagine how people handle this level of responsibility for years and years.

By Ruggercat68 — On Jan 16, 2015

I've been caring for my elderly mother-in-law for several years now, and I completely understand the concept of caregiver strain. In my case, a lot of my caregiver stress is caused by financial concerns. Because my mother-in-law could require a trip to the hospital at any moment,

I cannot work a regular full-time job any more. I couldn't expect an employer to just let me leave whenever I want and stay off the job for several days at a time. So, I no longer have any steady income. I find freelance work when I can, but I may have to find a job and work well into my retirement years after she passes away.

This situation puts a lot of stress on me, because I didn't plan on becoming an unpaid family caregiver. I thought I would be in the prime of my chosen career at this point, not carrying out soiled adult diapers and driving an 86 year old woman to numerous appointments every week. I barely had time to be a mature adult myself and now I have to be someone else's "parent".

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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