Caregiver stress: The importance of looking after the caregiver

Being the primary carer for someone is a huge undertaking and as you become more and more focused on the needs of your ageing parent, it’s all too easy to forget about yourself. Having the ability to look after someone else means looking after yourself too.

This article has been set out to help you identify the signs of caregiver stress and steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms to make sure you’re in a position to care for someone else.

What is caregiver stress?

Caregiver stress occurs as a direct result of caring for your ageing, disabled or sick family member. Identifying the symptoms of caregiver stress will help you combat the long-term complications any stress can cause to your mental and physical health.

Look out for the following signs and symptoms:

Emotional symptoms

  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Constantly worried
  • Increased anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling alone and like no one else is helping you
  • Frequent fatigue with disruption in sleep pattern
  • Depression
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of interest in daily activities

The emotional symptoms can take a great toll on your overall wellbeing as you fluctuate between these feelings of helplessness and anger with subsequent guilt for the feelings you’re experiencing. Remember, these feelings are all too common among primary caregivers as you stop focussing on yourself and how you feel.

Physical symptoms

  • Frequent headaches and body aches
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • A weakened immune system making you more susceptible to colds and flu
  • Hair loss
  • Issues with digestion

Prolonged exposure to the physical symptoms of caregiver stress can impact your long-term health, so if you are suffering from any of the above symptoms make sure you contact your local GP to get an assessment.

Steps to relieve the stress

Say yes to help and don’t be afraid to ask for it

At the end of the day, you’re only one person and you can’t take the full weight of caring for someone else alone. Taking a step back and understanding that it’s ok to ask for help will not only relieve the stress on you, but give you back some of the energy you need to care for your older loved one.

It can be as simple as accepting the offer from your neighbour to pop round for a cup of tea for an hour or so a week to give your older loved one some company while you have some time for yourself.

Have some ‘me’ time

Create a set time in your weekly schedule to make sure you get some time for yourself. Whether it’s going for a walk or taking a long bath, some time alone will help to recharge your batteries and feel like yourself again. Even if it’s only a few minutes a day to begin with, it can make a big difference to your emotional health.

It’s a good idea to get that essential you time early in the day so that it doesn’t get swallowed up by other activities that inevitably seem to crop up as the day passes.

  • Take it one step at a time
  • Break down tasks into smaller more manageable steps.
  • Make lists of what you want to achieve in the day and set a daily routine early on.
  • This will help you feel like you’re more in control as well as providing structure and more comfort for your older parent.

Respite care

Many Nursing Home’s across the country offer respite care. Your older relative can spend some time in a residential care facility for a couple of weeks to give you a break. You can also organise for your older loved one to go to a day centre for adults.

Not only will it be beneficial for you to have some free time, but it’s also great for your relative to maintain some social activity outside the home and engage in meaningful activities. For information on respite care and day centres in your local area, contact your public health nurse or family GP.

In home help

To relieve you of the round the clock care your loved one needs, considering some in home help could be a saviour for your emotional and physical health. The HSE provides a service called Home Support Service for anyone over the age of 65.

Having someone there to help with bathing and personal care will mean you have a little extra time in the day to get yourself organised and feeling more relaxed.

For more information on what care is available to your ageing parent, check out our article Care Support Available to your Loved One as they age.

You don’t have to yes to everything

As a caregiver, you can often fall into the trap of agreeing to every request your loved one makes as you perceive that as caring for them adequately. Know that it’s ok to say no sometimes. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like there’s not enough hours in the day, you’re not being selfish by saying no.

  • You don’t have to answer anyone immediately either. If you’re unsure, don’t feel pressured into making a decision there and then. Simply take some time to think it over, and get back to them.
  • Join a support group
  • Know that you’re not alone. There are many other people across the country just like you.
  • Seek support and help each other through any difficult periods you’re going through.

For a list of support organisations, check out this comprehensive list provided by the HSE: Support Organisations.

Avail of caregiver training

If you’ve just recently started caring for your older relative and are feeling a bit out of sorts and overwhelmed with the ongoing task, or feel like you’re stuck in a bit of a rut there are organisations out there to give you advice and support.

Family Carers Ireland provide workshops for caregivers based on a minimum of 12 participants. If you’d like more information, you can email them on at

Whatever steps you take to help relieve some of the stress from your daily life as a caregiver, always remember that your emotional and physical health is just as important as the person you’re caring for.

Be there for an older loved one, from anywhere.