Anticipate and manage impacts on your personal life
Being a caregiver can affect every aspect of a person’s life. This article lists some of the most common physical and emotional impacts that a caregiver can expect to experience. It then briefly suggests some effective ways of managing these impacts.
Anticipating and managing the impacts of caregiving
Being a caregiver can affect every aspect of a person’s life: physical, emotional, financial, social, and even spiritual. Though some of these impacts can be positive, many of them are negative.
For caregivers, the first steps in minimizing the negative effects are knowing what to expect and then setting up a plan to manage the impacts.
Emotional effects of caregiving
Caregiving can take an emotional toll. The most common negative emotional effects that caregivers report are depression, guilt, resentment, anger, worry, loneliness, and grief.
Between 40% and 70% of caregivers have major symptoms of depression.1 This is thought to come from constant stress, isolation, self-neglect, lack of choice, and loss of their normal life. Women are much more likely than men to become depressed when caregiving.2
Many caregivers feel guilty because they believe they are doing things wrong or not doing enough. They can especially feel guilty if they set boundaries, say no, ask for help, or put themselves or other loved ones first. Many also feel guilt about “unacceptable” feelings they have, such as resentment, anger, and dislike toward the person for whom they are caring.
It is common for caregivers to feel intense resentment toward their care recipient for having “hijacked” or taken over their life. They can also resent siblings or other family members for not doing enough.
Caregivers often feel angry, from a combination of stress, helplessness, resentment, and fear. They may feel anger about the situation or towards their care recipient.
Concerns about the care recipient’s condition can lead to caregivers being consumed by worry. Many are also deeply worried about their own well-being and their finances when caring for another has taken over their lives.
Many caregivers become isolated from their friends, family, and normal social life. This can be because they feel they can’t afford the time away from caring for their loved one, they are too exhausted to maintain relationships, or they think other people won’t be able to relate to what they are going through.
Some caregivers feel an emotion called “anticipatory grief.” This is the feeling of loss and mourning that comes from knowing that their loved one is going to die or that they are in the process of losing their identity and relationship (through dementia, for example). The caregiver might also feel grief for the normal life they themselves have lost.
Physical effects of caregiving
Caregiving can take a physical toll. The most common physical effects of caregiving are severe stress and poor immune function, self-neglect, and strain and injury from heavy lifting.
Severe stress and poor immune function
Caregivers are often extremely stressed. In fact, on average, their stress hormones are 23% higher than non-caregivers. This level is on par with people with PTSD.3 The chronic acute stress leads to a low-functioning immune system and can cause the caregiver to get sick often or even develop auto-immune diseases.
Many caregivers neglect their own physical health when they start giving care to someone else. This includes eating poorly, getting too little sleep, and not exercising. Self-neglect is a big part of caregiver stress syndrome, especially since more than 40% of caregivers have two or more chronic diseases themselves and 33% have a disability.4
Strain and injury from heavy lifting
Most home caregivers are untrained and do not know the proper way to lift and shift their care recipient. In addition, the needs of their care recipient may oblige them to lift more than the 35 pounds that is the recommended maximum.5 The most common injuries are to the back and neck.
Ways to manage the impacts of caregiving
Managing the negative effects of being a caregiver is very important in preventing burnout, depression, and illness. By the time the caregiver is aware of these negative effects, it is often too late to easily reverse them. It is a good idea for caregivers to check their caregiving experience regularly using the Burden Scale for Family Caregivers. This will help them track whether they are managing well or need to put more systems in place.
Some key ways of managing the negative effects of caregiving are to ask for help, take breaks and practice self-care, and set boundaries
Ask for help
Trying to do caregiving alone will make the impacts on both the caregiver and the person receiving care much worse. The better someone feels, the better their caregiving will be. More than half of caregivers say that a decline in their own health has made them less able to give care to another.6
Here are some ways to get help:
- Look for a trained counselor or therapist.
- Join a support group. There are in-person and virtual support groups for caregivers of people with many of the common illnesses and also support groups specifically for caregivers, such as the Family Alliance on Caregiving, the Caring.com Resource Center, AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group, Caring for Elderly Parents, and the Caregiver Action Network. Almost all caregiver support groups are free to join.
- Get in touch with a local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Most AAAs offer caregiver support and training, along with other useful services, such as help with transportation and help completing applications.
- Call on family and friends for support.
Take breaks and practice self-care
Build regular breaks from caregiving into your schedule to focus on your own life and recharging. These are called respite breaks, and they are an important part of staying as healthy and unstressed as possible. Here are some ways to make sure you can get breaks:
- Create a schedule that includes regular time slots with other people—such as friends, family, or volunteers—providing care for an hour or more.
- Look up respite providers. These are services such as adult daycare, paid caregivers, and home-care providers. Many senior-living facilities allow short-term stays for older adults to give their caregivers respite. In addition, you may have access to volunteer sitter and companion services offered by civic organizations, churches, and so on. Your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) may be able to help you find these.
- Use the support systems provided in facilities. Hospices, hospitals, and senior centers all usually offer some amount of respite care.
As hard as it can be, setting boundaries is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the negative impacts of caregiving on your life.
Ways to set boundaries include:
- Saying no (and sticking to it)
- Setting realistic limits
- Eliminating the word “should” from your vocabulary
- Making a list of tasks you won’t do (such as helping the care recipient with the toilet and bathing)
- Scheduling time for yourself
- Writing up a caregiver’s agreement with the care recipient.
Adult day care
Avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable
Balance care responsibilities
Create a care plan
Deal with caregiver burnout
Deal with caregiver depression
Find trusted sources of help
Get help and support
Join a caregiver community
Minimize family confusion, disagreements, and frustration
Take care of yourself emotionally
Take care of yourself physically
External supporting content
1Caregiver Statistics: Health, Technology, and Caregiving Resources. Caregiver.org.
2Depression and Caregiving. Caregiver.org.
370% of All Caregivers Over the Age of 70 Die First. Is Caregiver Syndrome a REAL Medical Diagnosis?. BrmmLaw.com
4Caregiving for Family and Friends—A Public Health Issue. CDC.gov.
5Safe Lifting Techniques for Caregivers. Eldercareanswers.com.
6For Caregivers, Family and Friends. CDC.gov.