How to manage caregiver stress

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young woman filling the role of caregiver for an elderly womanWith the school year now in full swing, it’s important to draw attention to family caregivers. At some point in their lives, most Americans will become a caregiver, not just as a parent but as a caregiver to a husband or wife, an aging parent, relative or friend. In doing so, they help to manage that individual’s everyday activities, finances or medical care.

In general, because of their nurturing tendencies, women are more likely to take on the role of caregiver. According to a report by AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving, 60 percent of caregivers are women. The report also notes that women caregivers tend to have more stress and other health problems than men.

Caregiving produces rich rewards, but it can be challenging, and stress can creep in, both physically and emotionally. In fact, caregivers report much higher levels of stress than those who are not caregivers.

Stress affects everybody differently. It can cause sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression and changes in activity levels or appetite. Over time, it can lead to other physical changes and a weakened immune system.

It’s important that you recognize the signs of caregiver stress so that you can address it:

  • Headaches or body aches
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Constant fatigueOn the way to rehabilitation. Helpful positive young daughter standing in the bedroom and being the caregiver for old disabled mother.
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling worried or sad
  • Feeling overwhelmed, isolated or alone
  • Disinterest in activities you once enjoyed


Methods for lowering stress

Taking care of yourself before taking care of others has to be your priority, and one of the most important ways you can do this is by asking for help.

For women, they often feel like they have to do it all. But when you’re in a caregiving situation, you have to ask for help, even if it goes beyond your comfort zone. Ask a friend to get your groceries or sit with your family while you take a break.

Along with asking for help, you have to maintain relationships. Too often, people let activities and relationships slip. Make a point to reach out to others and participate in activities with friends or family.

In addition, have hobbies that you enjoy independently. It doesn’t have to be a large activity. Go outside for fresh air, read a book or assemble a puzzle. Try to find something that doesn’t involve a computer, tablet or phone.

Diet and exercise are another way to maintain energy and lower stress. Choose healthy foods and find time each week to be active. Be sure to get enough sleep every night.

There are also many groups out there for caregivers that offer support, encouragement and a time to share with others who are going through the same thing.

Finally, see your primary provider regularly and let them know you are a caregiver.

Your role as a caregiver is extremely important, so it’s crucial that you accept encouragement and help from others while focusing on your own health.

Help your child deal with stress at school

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By Jill Wilkens, Physician Assistant


School in the tri-county area is almost back in session. As you prepare to send your children off to class, this might be a good time to take a step back to evaluate the school-year schedule. Is your Bored and fed boy up doing his homeworkchild in sports? Do they take part in after school activities? How much homework might their new teachers assign? Do they have good friends at school?

The answers to these questions can all impact your child’s resistance to stress.

Though stress is usually attributed to adults or teenagers, children are also susceptible to stress, especially during school. Anything from being overwhelmed with homework, to not understanding something, to experiencing problems with friends or classmates could trigger stress. Your child could also pick up on situations at home that could cause them stress.

Keep an eye out for the warning signs. Your child may become more irritable, act out or change their normal behavior. They may cry more easily.

Always be open and eager to listen to your children, and encourage them so that they are comfortable coming to you if they feel stressed. Make sure your child knows that you’re available to help, whether it’s with homework or with friend trouble.

Here are some other ways to help your child deal with stress:

  1. Make sure they keep to a routine, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time.
  2. Set aside time for homework each day.
  3. Schedule family time.
  4. Have playtime built into their everyday routine.

With the increase of homework and the added pressure of responsibilities earlier in a child’s life, playtime is beneficial. Sometimes kids just need to be kids. You could also use playtime to make learning more fun.Kids playing outside on a jungle gym during recess.

In general, I recommend that kids try to get at least 30-60 minutes of activity or exercise daily. This goes hand in hand with limiting screen time, which is important to enforce with children in this day and age.

Getting enough exercise works in tandem with getting enough sleep to keep children functioning at their best. During the school year, most children should get at least 10 hours of sleep at night, but depending on the child, that number can vary from nine to 12 hours.

Paying attention to the amount of sleep, physical activity and playtime that a child gets is key to keeping their stress levels low.

Have a great school year!



About the Author: Jill Wilkens is a physician assistant at the Tri-County Health Care Wadena Clinic. A native of Long Prairie, Jill previously worked at the New Ulm Medical Center and has been in Wadena since 2011. She and her husband, Shayne, have two children and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.