Caregiving — Part 2 of 5

While you may feel no one understands the stress you’re feeling as you’re pulled in different directions by your job, your family, and the person for whom you are caring take heart. You’re not alone. Statistics for both Canada and the U.S. show that:

  • 57% of caregivers go to work late, leave early or take time off for caregiving
  • 17% take a leave of absence, and
  • 10% switched from full-time to part-time work schedule

Caregivers provide a range of activities, some relatively undemanding like driving the person you care for to an appointment. Other activities can be very demanding, such as bathing, dressing, and feeding your cared-for. The time demands are different. So is the physical and emotional stress involved.

Caring for a loved one often means balancing home and work with your caregiving challenge. Being upfront with your employer about your caregiving obligations and creating alternative work arrangements can help reduce your stress. Some people cope by choosing:

  • A Compressed Workweek: Four 10-hour days, three 12-hour days, or working a combination of half and full days.
  • A Flexible Work Schedule: Starting and leaving work earlier or later.
  • Reduced hours: Negotiating fewer hours for less pay.
  • Part-time: Significantly reducing your work schedule.
  • Job Sharing: Part-time employment in which two or more people  “share” a particular job, each assuming specific responsibilities and work hours
  • Telecommuting: Working from home at least one day a week.

If you take on the role of caregiver, you’ll need to be vigilant about also caring for yourself. That means watching carefully for caregiver burnout. According to the Health Canada Caregiver Profile, 70% of primary caregivers say that providing care has been stressful. Of those, 77% say caregiving has created emotional difficulties for them. If you feel that you can no longer cope or that your own health is deteriorating, you may be suffering from caregiver burnout.

  • Do you forget to take time for yourself?
  • Have you given up hobbies or regular activities?
  • Do you see less of family and friends?
  • Do you often feel tired?
  • Are you getting sick more often?
  • Are you gaining or losing weight unintentionally?
  • Are you experiencing back pain or headaches?
  • Do you have outbursts of anger or tears?
  • Are you worried about having enough money to pay for caregiving and other needs?
  • Do you feel you don’t have the knowledge or experience to provide proper care?

If you said “yes” or “maybe” to more than two of these questions, it’s time to ask for help. Most people don’t realize how stressful caregiving is. There is so much wear and tear: guilt, anger, frustration; most people don’t recognizing that all these feelings are normal. They are not signs of personal failure. To avoid burnout:

Get as much information about your care-recipient’s condition as you can. Not knowing what’s going on is a stressor.

Reduce your sense of isolation. Find people to talk to: friends, family, a small group. Don’t ignore the obvious like your family doctor. They not only need to know what you’re going through, they may be able to provide useful referrals to a variety of resources. Join a support group. Just being able to share their experiences and expertise will help Internet chat groups work for people who can’t get to meetings.

Ask for help and delegate. Respite is an important to your health and emotional well-being. Caregivers get burnt out if there’s no relief. And don’t let anyone tell you how to spell relief. Relief can only be defined by what you need. Hospital social workers can let you know what you’re eligible for and connect you with resources in the community. And don’t forget about family service centres, the public health nurse, and your corporate human resources department, or employee assistance program. Join a caregiver organization or support group.

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