Most of us will be caregivers at some point in our lives. As former first lady Rosalynn Carter said, there are four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.
While caregiving can be a deeply rewarding expression of love accompanied by feelings of personal satisfaction and meaning, it can also be a very stressful endeavor. Caregivers report more anxiety, depression and an increased use of alcohol or other drugs, a condition known as “caregiver stress syndrome.”
Caregiver stress syndrome is the exhaustion — both physical and emotional — combined with emotions such as anger, rage or guilt that result from the burden of unrelieved caregiving.
Educators and nurses, who comprise the bulk of the UFT’s membership, are in caregiving professions. They take care of patients and instill values and nurture good behavior among students and school communities.
But what happens when a caregiver becomes overwhelmed? Here are a few of the symptoms:
- Feeling too tired to finish lesson plans or other work;
- Becoming easily frustrated and lacking in empathy for your students or patients;
- Excessive smoking or drinking, using other drugs to relieve the pressure;
- Feeling alone, isolated or deserted by others;
- Sleeping too much or too little;
- Losing or gaining weight;
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy;
- Feeling guilty because you wish you didn’t have caregiving responsibilities;
- Suffering from frequent headaches or body aches.
Tips to alleviate caregiver stress
It is easy for caregivers to become overwhelmed and discouraged. It’s important for caregivers to maintain their own health by getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, and making time to exercise. Other ways to prevent or manage the stress include:
- Learning to ask friends and family for support;
- Finding caregiving resources in your community to help you;
- Joining a support group for caregivers. The UFT Retiree Social Services Department offers a support group for retired caregivers that meets weekly. For more information, contact Chris Chin at 1-212-598-9591;
- Taking time for yourself and making sure to do things you enjoy;
- Seeing your doctor for regular checkups to take care of your own health;
- Getting organized with to-do lists and daily routines to better manage your caregiving responsibilities.