Seeing the tip of the Caregiver-Stress Iceberg

Published: Apr 07, 2020

If recent calls to the Alzheimer Society are any indication, caregivers are already grappling with rising stress levels, associated with Covid-19, directly or indirectly. On one side, is the impact of an apparently invincible Covid-19 infection, and the enforced restrictions, and on the other side is pressure of increasing caregiving responsibilities. 

Compounding this situation are the mood and behaviour changes some caregivers may be observing in their loved one with dementia, making them wonder what could be going on. The reason for the mood and behaviour changes could be any, ranging from the person’s anxiety around the new restrictions, recent changes in their routine, missing their day program activities and consequent boredom, to your busier schedule, and your/caregiver stress.  Your stress could be inadvertently triggering those changes. 

Persons with dementia tend to feed off the caregivers’ emotions. However, since they are unable to process emotions in the right way, these emotions manifest as anxiety, confusion, low mood, agitation, pacing, aggression, sleep disturbances etc., adding to caregivers’ existing stress.

It is not just the family caregiver, caring for the person at home, who experiences stress.

This is an equally stressful time for caregivers whose loved ones live in care homes or live independently. With the current restriction on family visits, these caregivers also experience significant amounts of stress.

Left unchecked, your stress can take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health, relationships, and mental state, leading to a state of burnout. Many caregivers are so busy caring for their loved one or overseeing their care that they have no time to care for themselves or to address the emotions they are experiencing. They do not realize that this is taking a heavy toll on their health and wellbeing.

Being aware of one’s mental state is critical for caregivers and is the first step to taking control of one’s health. Stress can manifest in many ways. Ask yourself if you have been experiencing these changes lately-

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often, without any reason
  • Having difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Having difficulty making decisions
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad or having crying spells
  • Feeling of having no time for yourself
  • Having frequent headaches, backache, stomach cramps or other physical problems
  • Feeling strained between work and family responsibilities
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Increasing intake of alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

If your answer to many of these questions is ‘yes’, it means that you are experiencing a high degree of stress.  Try to identify your stressors, and think of ways to minimize those stressors.

For instance, if you are worried about not seeing your loved one in a care home, try to schedule face time or video calls, with the help of a staff member.

Perhaps you can see the person from outside their room, through a window while having a telephone conversation with the person. 

You can also take some steps to incorporate active relaxation into your daily life.  You may start by dedicating some time every day to go for walks, to listen to your favourite music, and watch some funny videos or comedy movies. You may do these activities together with your loved one, so that you are engaging the person at the same time. Try to devote ten minutes of your time every day to do some deep breathing and meditation. 

Maintain a gratitude diary and at the end of the day write down at least three things for which you are grateful that day. If these strategies are not helping,  discuss with your physician and if required, seek the expert assistance of a psychologist.