Caregiver stress is difficult for family caregivers to accept and understand, since taking care of a parent often starts out like a nice cup of tea. It feels good in your hands, comforting to give back to the person who has given you so much in life—life, itself, in fact. You savor the warmth of it and carry it with pride and love.
Initially, the cup of tea is easy for you to carry. Sometimes you carry the cup and saucer in one hand, at other times you need two hands, but you find it easy to juggle this activity with the other aspects of life. Nothing is so important that you’d ever think of putting the cup and saucer to the side. After all, it is a small burden and it doesn’t weigh much.
Then comes the day when caregiver stress starts to kick in. It’s the day when the cup and saucer start to seem heavy. You don’t understand why. You challenge the idea of it. After all this is the same cup of tea you’ve been carrying all along. Nothing has changed so why does such a small burden feel so heavy, now?
It’s because the stress of caregiving is much like the weight of a cup of tea. It creeps up on you. If someone were to tell you that you weren’t strong enough to hold a cup of tea, you would think them silly indeed. Yet, if you hold that cup of tea for an hour, your arms will begin to ache. If you hold it for a day, you’ll ache all over. Hold it long enough, and eventually you’ll require medical attention simply from bearing the weight of a cup of tea. Although the actual weight remained the same, the result of holding it over time brings with it real physical damage to your body.
If you carry anything with you all the time—without ever setting it down—sooner or later, the burden becomes increasingly heavy despite your desire for it to be otherwise. The weight of caregiver responsibilities, just as with a cup of tea, have to put it down for a while and you must rest before picking it up again. When refreshed, it is easy for you to pick up. You may even find it easier to carry, and that you are able to carry it longer and better each time you practice letting it go for a while.
Every burden, no matter how small, must be released for a time to renew our ability to once again carry it with us.
“It’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.”
—Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland
Caregiving can take a toll on the caregiver’s health, which is why Respite Care is essential. Research has shown that women caregivers:
- Get colds and flu more easily
- Are more likely to have depression or anxiety
- Are at higher risk for heart disease
Burnout warning signs:
For your sake, and your loved one’s, don’t ignore these possible burnout signs:
- Feeling sad, unusually anxious, or moody
- Crying more often than usual
- Having trouble sleeping or getting out of bed
- Having low energy or lacking interest in things you usually enjoy
- Feeling short of breath or like you have a knot in your throat
- Getting frequent stomach cramps or headaches
- Having chest pains
- Drinking too much alcohol (more than one drink a day)
- Eating too much or too little
Pay attention to these symptoms and get the help you need. Talk to your doctor about your physical and emotional symptoms. Make sure he or she knows you are a caregiver. Ensure that Respite Care is part of the plan you have for taking care of your loved one. Respite care just means that you take time for yourself and that you are not putting too many physical and mental demands on your body. Too often caregiver stress creeps up on people so slowly that they don’t realize they are suffering from it until it becomes overwhelming and they wonder what happened. Many find they have created a permanent medical condition that they will live with the rest of their lives.