Emotional and Physical Signs of Caregiver Stress
An individual who devotes a lot of their time and energy into supporting someone else’s health or safety may experience caregiver stress, which is characterised by ongoing physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. It is important to be able to recognise that the unique set of challenges associated with caring for a loved one with an eating disorder may make a caregiver vulnerable to developing caregiver stress.
As a caregiver, recognising these signs in yourself is the first step towards fostering greater compassion for yourself, which in turn will allow you to draw on more empathy in the interactions you have with your loved one. It is important to note, however, that caregiver stress can may look different for everyone.
Caregiver stress can lead to negative emotions, such as:
- Feeling anxious that your actions might harm someone under your care. This could lead you to question your own judgment and self-worth.
- Being overcome with sadness, with feelings such as hopelessness and helplessness, about whether your loved one will recover.
- Feeling angry, which may come from believing the person you are caring for does not accept, desire, or value the care you provide.
- Denial of your loved one’s condition, potentially leading you to downplay the seriousness associated with their mental and medical health.
- Guilt which may stem from prioritising the care of your unwell loved one over other family members.
- Loneliness because no one else has an understanding of what you are going through.
- In some cases, caregiver stress may lead to feelings of detachment from your own emotions, resulting in a reduced ability to express feelings to yourself or others.
In addition to these emotions, caregiver stress can have physical effects on the body such as:
- Interrupted sleep patterns such as under or over-sleeping.
- Changes in your appetite.
- Increased levels of sweating.
- Hair thinning, and potential hair loss.
- Musculoskeletal discomfort, including feeling pain across your back, shoulders, or neck.
- Frequent headaches, which may manifest into migraines.
- Memory issues, such as forgetfulness or trouble concentrating.
- Stomach and digestive problems, such as an upset stomach, acid stomach, cramps, heartburn, gas, IBS, constipation, or diarrhoea.
- A weakened immune system, increasing your susceptibility to illnesses like colds, flu, and infections.
- Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and palpitations.
- Ongoing feelings of tiredness and fatigue.
Taking Care of Yourself
The emotional and physical strain associated with caregiver stress highlights the importance of practising self-care, as well as seeking support from others. The following outlines some suggestions of what self-care and support seeking may look like:
- Holding space for yourself. This is intentionally setting time aside for yourself, to engage in activities you find pleasurable, such as reading, exercising, or watching a favourite television program.
- Practising mindfulness. Practising mindfulness may range from taking a few minutes to a few hours each day to focus your attention fully on the present moment, allowing you to be more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and surroundings without judgement or buying into them.
- Reaching out to those closest to you, such as your neighbours, family members, and closest friends.
- Reaching out to health care providers. This may include discussing the possibility of seeking support from an EDFA Counsellor or another mental health practitioner through your local general practitioner.
If you require immediate support, there are services available over telephone that may provide you with local referrals suited to your needs or those of your loved one. These include Lifeline (13 11 44 – operates 24/7), Carer Gateway (1800 422 737 Mon to Friday 8am and 5pm) or Butterfly Foundation (1800 334 673 – operates 8am-9pm).
Reaching out to community services such as EDFA’s Fill The Gap Counselling Services, as well as our online webinars and our forums that are moderated by the EDFA team. Fellow caregivers share similar experiences, offering valuable advice and assistance, as you discuss the challenges you face and strengths you embody as both a carer and individual.
Should you have any questions regarding the support services offered by EDFA contact 1300 195 626 or https://edfa.org.au/contact-us/.