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How To Overcome Caregiver Stress Syndrome

Image of a caregiver taking care of a elderly ladyAre you taking care of an elderly, sick, or disabled person, especially full-time? Particularly when it is a family member you are caring for full time, caregiving can become an all-consuming task.  And it can put you at risk for caregiver stress syndrome.

Caregiver stress syndrome can creep up on you slowly. It can start with minor things. Like neglecting your own self-care once in a while because the person you’re taking care of the sick person's needs. Or starting to lose the feeling of satisfaction you used to get by taking care of others. Or becoming more and more resentful of your role or the person you’re taking care of.

As these things begin to take their toll, you may notice, even if in retrospect, the worsening of your physical and mental health. If you already had health problems, they get worse. If you didn’t, you may begin experiencing early symptoms of certain conditions. And these issues also start to make it difficult to be as patient or tolerant with the person you’re taking care of.

Here are some other possible symptoms to watch out for:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sleeping doesn’t refresh you
  • Emotional reactivity
  • More frequent colds and flu
  • Less interest in leisure activities
  • Overeating
  • Smoking and/or drinking more

These are all signs of caregiver stress syndrome, and you are not to blame here. You are doing your best in a challenging situation. But there are steps you can take to better protect your own health, and by extension, your ability to care for others.

Caregiver Stress Syndrome and Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response dysregulation are very similar to caregiver stress syndrome symptoms.

That’s because constantly thinking and worrying about someone else's needs is stressful. Putting your needs aside regularly to address someone else's is stressful. And when this happens on an ongoing basis, your body doesn't get a chance to rest and turn off the stress. Chronic stress is indeed chronic stress, whether mental or physical. And with caregiver stress syndrome, you’re sure to be facing both.

And what happens when you’re facing this kind of mental and physical strain is that it starts to overwork your adrenal glands. At first, they will produce more and more cortisol to help your body cope with that stress. But then, when they become exhausted, their cortisol output drops.

The problem is, however, you’re not aware of this happening. And even if you were, you may have to continue with your caregiving duties, but now without the support of cortisol, your body’s main anti-stress hormone.

This then starts, like a domino effect, taking down each NEM circuit. Starting with the Hormone Circuit, of which the adrenal glands are part. Then the other five circuits: the Bioenergetics, the Cardionomic, the Neuroaffect, the Inflammation, and the Detoxification circuits.

With each circuit’s dysregulation, symptoms become more severe and varied. That’s why symptoms of AFS are usually misdiagnosed as several other conditions, such as PTSD, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

These symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbances, weight gain, brain fog, anxiety, mild depression, dry skin, hair loss, loss of libido, PMS, infertility, lowered immunity, heart palpitations, hypoglycemia, salt and sugar cravings, food and drug sensitivities, and estrogen dominance, to name a few.

How to Overcome Caregiver Stress Syndrome

1) Let Go of Guilt

First, we want to acknowledge you for the work you are doing. It’s often taken for granted how hard caregivers work and how much they give of themselves for their loved ones. Most people believe it’s just a responsibility that family members take on without much thought. But it can be a pretty big sacrifice.

Because of this, it is important that you acknowledge yourself. We’ve seen time and again that caregivers rarely give themselves the credit they deserve. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite. Caregivers riddled with guilt over not being able to do more. And so, the first step to overcoming caregiver stress syndrome is to stop this belief in its tracks and take a moment to appreciate all that you’re doing.

A related feeling is the idea that "you should do everything alone." This is just not true. Getting help and care from many different people is good for both you and your loved one.

If you’re unable to shake off feelings of guilt, even when you’re doing your best, it’s time to do something about it. Therapy and support groups can help a lot. Journaling, meditating, and taking time to really reflect on why you feel this way can also help.

2) Get Help

The next, and very important step, is to admit that you can’t keep going at this pace. That something needs to change. If you admit it, then you can change it. And here are some options for doing just that:

  • A group of people listing to a woman speakTell other people what you’re going through, whether they are friends, family, therapists, or a support group. If you are not part of a caregiver support group, find one. You deserve emotional support, and that is part of what keeps you healthy to take care of someone else.
  • Share the responsibility. It's critical that you find others to help you manage the care responsibilities. It's not failure - it's succeeding in getting everyone the support they need, including yourself. You need to spread the tasks. Get the family involved, hire help, or enlist community support. There are many organizations designed to help support ill and disabled people. You can divide the tasks into categories. Maybe others can help with the cooking, cleaning, shopping, finances, or doctor’s appointments.
  • Take a break when possible. Arrange for someone else to take over once in a while so you can rest and relax, and maybe even enjoy a leisure activity. If you don’t have a family member who can help, enlist a volunteer or hire assistance. There are respite care services that can take over for a while, even a longer while, if you need it.
  • Consider care centers. There’s no shame in accepting that you can’t do it anymore, especially if others are not able to help enough. In that case, your loved one will be taken care of, and you’d be taking care of yourself too.

3) Prioritize Adrenal Fatigue Recovery

What we mentioned above are changes you can make to create more time and space for yourself to take care of yourself. If you have AFS or NEM dysregulation, that means attending to those as well:

  • Don’t neglect your nutrition. You may think your body can handle it, but if you’re eating junk every day, just to get through, it is gradually eroding your health. Small, seemingly insignificant unhealthy choices build up and eventually catch up with you. The adrenal fatigue diet is an excellent diet for those with stress and fatigue. It will replenish your depleted nutrient and energy stores, keep your energy levels stable throughout the day, and keep your blood sugar levels even. You can work with your adrenal fatigue specialist to make sure the recipes and meals are quick and easy to make if you feel like you can’t dedicate too much time to cooking right now.
  • Consider taking gentle supplements that can fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet and also give you a boost when needed. But if you have AFS, you should talk to your doctor first so that you don’t add more pressure on your adrenals. Taking too many or even just the wrong supplements can cause adrenal crashes and detoxification problems.
  • Sleep and rest as much as you can. The only way to reverse caregiver stress syndrome and AFS is to give your body time to recover. If you’re having sleep issues, implementing good sleep hygiene might help a lot. This can include keeping your room cool and dark, not using a screen before going to sleep, and eating a light snack at bedtime to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the night.
  • Forgo high-energy workouts and try gentle breathing and gentle yoga exercises instead. At least until you have recovered properly. These will help you keep your body supple and active without putting a strain on your adrenals.

Conclusion

 A couple talking to a counselor If you have caregiver stress syndrome, you probably also have some kind of AFS and NEM dysregulation. But you’re not alone. Many primary caregivers of ill and elderly loved ones have similar experiences. It’s a difficult and sometimes thankless job. So it’s important to take care of your own well-being as well. If not only for your sake, for the sake of those you care for as well.

You need support, not just with the caregiving, but to overcome caregiver stress syndrome itself. Reach out to friends and family, look for adrenal fatigue experts, and do what you can to make your life simple and enjoyable again. There are options out there.

If you need assistance about what your next step should be, whether you’re dealing with caregiver stress syndrome or adrenal fatigue, you can contact the Dr. Lam Coaching team. We can offer you a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1-626-571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and what your options are. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Caregiver Stress Syndrome is a collection of symptoms most primary caregivers of ill or elderly loved ones experience. It can be quite a difficult job and it requires you take care of yourself too. So here’s what you need to do to overcome its challenges.

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