Caregiving stress arises from the emotional and physical challenges of providing caregiving to another. For those with neuromuscular disease, much or all of caregiving is provided by a family member, most often a parent. While caregiving for family member can be rewarding, caregivers often experience stress. Women appear to be especially vulnerable to caregiving stress.
Stress may be experienced in a variety of ways. First, stress can cause physical symptoms. Those under long-term stress become more likely to have medical problems Immune system response becomes lowered, leading to problems such as having a weaker immune response to flu vaccine, spending more days ill, and healing more slowly from an injury.
Long-term stress can also cause significant emotional distress. Caregivers are at risk for symptoms of depression or anxiety. Caregivers may also experience decreases in their cognitive functioning, such as difficulties with memory and attention.
Caregivers often neglect to care for their own health needs, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals and getting enough exercise. Women who provide caregiving for family members are less likely to receive necessary medical care, fill prescriptions for themselves, or get a mammogram.
A number of symptoms have been identified as indicating that caregiving stress may be becoming a problem. Some of these include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, tiredness, feelings of being overwhelmed, losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, and frequent feelings of anger, irritation, anxiety, or sadness. Physical symptoms might include head or body aches or more specific illness. Those under long-term stress may also be at risk for the abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications.
Untreated, long-term caregiver stress may even lead a person to emotionally or physically harm the person that they are caring for. Any thoughts or behaviors of this nature indicate that professional counseling support should be sought.
Caregiving stress should be taken seriously and, left untreated, can lead to caregiver burnout. Untreated, long-term stress not only significantly affects the health of the caregiver, but also affects the health of the person under your care. For example, researchers have found that among those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), patients experience greater depression when their caregivers are overburdened. Caregiver burden also has negative effects on patient coping skills.
There are number of steps that caregivers can take to control stress. First caregivers must recognize stress and take stress seriously. Sometimes, the biggest barrier to receiving help is simply recognizing one's need for help. Some of that assistance may come from family members or friends. Caregivers can also find appropriate support services in their communities. Resources may include services such as support groups, classes at hospitals, and caregiving services such as transportation, home healthcare services, or in-home respite care.
The MDA website has information for caregivers of individuals and a site dedicated towards helping to manage the caregiving team called myMuscleTeam (see Resources). Two other U.S. organizations that assist caregivers and their contact information are listed below this article.
Successful stress management may also require some changes to how one thinks. For example, researchers have found that taking an active problem -solving approach to caregiving issues can help reduce stress. At the same time, it is important to learn to identify what can be changed versus what cannot be changed. Focusing one's time and energy on realistic goals, setting priorities, and establishing routines rather than focusing on changing other people's behavior or on solving unsolvable problems will lower stress.
Caregivers may also need to learn to take some time for themselves. Caring for their own basic physical and emotional health needs to be given priority. Learning simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and guided imagery can help. Making time for recreational and social activities will lower stress. According to research, moderate exercise can significantly reduce stress as well. Further, researchers have also found that journaling can lower levels of caregiving stress for those caring for somebody with neuromuscular disease.
While the demands of caregiving may lead to stress, recognizing caregiver stress and taking action to manage stress will benefit the well-being of both the caregiver and the care receiver.
U.S. Organizations for Caregivers:
Family Caregiver Alliance telephone 1-800-445-8106 website www.caregiver.org
National Family Caregivers Association telephone 1-800-896-3650 website www.nfcacares.org
Medvescek, C., (2003). Reducing Caregiver Stress May Help Loved Oneís Depression. MDA/ALS Newsmagazine, V8, N2. http://alsn.mda.org/article/reducing-caregiver-stress-may-help-loved-ones-depression . Retrieved 8/30/12.
Muscular Dystrophy Association (2004). Writing About Events May Lower Caregiver Stress. MDA/ALS Newsletter v9 n2. http://www.als-http://alsn.mda.org/article/als-research-roundup-february-2004 . Retrieved 8/30/12
Muscular Dystrophy Association (2008). MDA ALS Caregiverís Guide. http://mda.org/publications/mda-als-caregivers-guide . Retrieved 8/30/12.
Muscular Dystrophy Association, (n.d.). Caregivers. http://www.mda.org/services/caregivers . Retrieved 8/30/12.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health. (2008). Caregiver Stress Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/caregiver-stress.cfm. Retrieved 8/30/12.
WebMD, (n.d.). Caregivers: Donít Neglect Your Own Health. http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20011102/caregivers-dont-neglect-your-own-health . Retrieved 8/30/12.
WebMD, (n.d.). Tips for Coping with Caregiver Stress. http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/caregiver-advice-cope . Retrieved 8/30/12.