Hazards of Caregiver Stress

Caregiver stress is a major issue among those individuals who provide care and assistance to their aging parents. Caregiver stress can:

  • Frazzle your nerves
  • Muddle your thoughts
  • Wear you down physically and emotionally

In this article, we discuss the hazards of caregiver stress. In this regard, we analyze what you can expect to feel from time to time when you are a caregiver, including a caregiver for an elderly parent. We discuss the emotional and physical signs of caregiver stress. Finally, we also share suggestions about steps to take in order to prevent caregiver stress from becoming overwhelming.

Commonplace Caregiver Feelings

In the United States today, the majority of individuals receiving care and assistance on a daily basis have unpaid caregivers in the form of family members. More often than not, these voluntary family caregivers are spouses or adult children of aging parents.

The stark reality is that among these caregivers, there are a set of emotions that commonly are shared among those that assist loved ones in tasks of daily living and other matters. These are:

  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Fear

Each of these four emotions that do arise from caregiving are addressed in turn.


Anger is a commonplace emotion experienced by a person who is providing care for a family member, including an older parent. At times, a caretaker can feel trapped in the role of providing assistance to someone else. A caretaker can feel that he or she is missing out on the better part of life because of the need to provide care and assistance to another person. This can result in feelings of anger. This can result in a caregiving asking the question of “Why me?”


Guilt is another commonplace emotion experienced by a caregiver. Guilt can come in many forms when an individual has taken on the responsibility for providing care and assistance to someone else, like an aging parent. 

A caregiver might feel guilty wondering if an aging parent’s situation somehow could have been avoided. A caregiver might feel guilty because he or she is not able to engage in other activities with the rest of his or her family because of his or her commitment to caregiving. Guilt might arise because a caregiver experienced anger because of his or her being the person tasked with providing assistance. 

Caregiver guilt can compound over time and become almost debilitating or fully so. For this reason, it is important to address caregiver related guilt in a meaningful way. This can be accomplished in some instances by sharing your feelings with a trusted friend. It might also mean that you would be wise to see support and assistance from an experienced therapist of counselor. 


The feeling of sadness can abound when a person becomes a caregiver. This can particularly be the case when an adult child is put in the position of providing care and assistance to an aging parent.

A caregiver might be sad about the fact that his or her parent is declining and may not be around for all that much longer. This type of sadness is something akin to mourning – mourning the loss of what once was.

A caregiver might also be sad for his or her self. A caregiver may be said about the state of his or her life, including the fact that he or she now needs to spend what amounts to considerable amount of time caring for and assisting someone else.

As is the case with guilt, a caregiver’s sadness may grow to be quite profound. If that is the case, a caregiver should consider talking it out with a trusted friend. In some cases talking out in this manner may prove to not be enough to aid in finding relief from sadness. 

A caregiver should definitely consider seeking support, assistance, and guidance from a qualified therapist or counselor is sadness becomes a major factor in life. In addition, there is a growing number of support groups for people who have become caregivers from another person in their life. 

Emotional Signs of Caregiver Stress

Everyone experiences stress in their own way. Therefore, the signs of caregiver stress can vary from one individual to the next. With that said, there are some commonplace emotional signs associated with caregiver stress:

  • Persistent feelings of depression
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Lost of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Rapid mood swing
  • Rapid shifts from one emotion to another

Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress

In addition to emotional signs of caregiver stress, there can be physical symptoms as well. Physical symptoms indicative of caregiver stress include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Easily fatigues
  • Restlessness
  • Jumpiness
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Easily startled
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Heartburn
  • Gastric distress (diarrhea or constipation)
  • Difficulties becoming sexually aroused
  • Headaches
  • Teeth grinding
  • Muscle pain

Cognitive Signs of Caregiver Stress

In addition to emotional and physical symptoms of caregiver stress, it is also possible for a caregiver to exhibit cognitive signs. Cognitive signs of caregiver stress include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts
  • Decreased attention span
  • Memory issues or problems
  • Preoccupation with mistakes, real or imagined
  • Newfound preference for hurtful humor
  • Obsessing over negative things
  • Diminished problem-solving ability
  • Difficulty making decisions, even simple ones

10 Steps to Lower Caregiver Stress

In their book When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care by Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand, 10 steps to lower caregiver stress are laid out:

  • Take time for yourself
  • Look to others for support
  • Unburden yourself
  • Simplify your life
  • Exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get proper sleep
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid drugs
  • Hire a professional caregiver

A person involved in caregiving, including an adult caretaker assisting with an aging parent, is wise to begin incorporating these steps into his or her daily life as proactively as possible. By doing so, a caretaker may be able to stave off inordinate stress from the outset.

On the other hand, if a caretaker already is experiencing stress (which is natural, by the way), that individual should be intent on incorporating these steps into his or her life as expeditiously as possible. Following these steps can prove invaluable in preventing caregiver stress from becoming overwhelming.

A Look at Professional Assistance

Many caregivers harbor the notion that they can provide their parents the assistance they need indefinitely. The reality is that the time very well may come when professional assistance is necessary. Professional assistance may be necessary to ensure that an aging parent gets the care he or she needs. It may also be necessary to protect a caregiver from becoming so overwhelmed that he or she really can no longer function effectively. 

One type of professional assistance that might make sense in a particular situation is a homecare aide. A homecare aide can be scheduled to provide assistance for an aging parent daily or on any schedule that makes most sense in a particular situation.

Another alternative to consider is an assisted living community. There are a range of different types of assisted living options to consider – including larger facilities to smaller ones that truly have a homey, residential feel. In assisted living, an older adult is able to maintain an important level of independence while obtaining assistance with tasks of daily living and other matters. 

The prospect of adding professional assistance to the caregiving mix should be the subject of thoughtful discussion between the current caregiver and the parent. There can be exceptions to this general guideline when the parent in need of assistance has some type of cognitive issue and really is no longer readily able to make thoughtful decisions on his or own behalf. The extent of a cognitive or memory issue may preclude an assisted living community but may still allow for in-home care provided the proper professional is brought into the mix.