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By Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D.

Caregiver stress, also known as caregiver burden, refers to the physical, emotional, and psychological strain experienced by people who provide care for a loved one or family member who is elderly, chronically ill, disabled, or has a mental health condition.

Caring for someone can be a demanding and often challenging responsibility, particularly if the caregiver is providing care on a full-time basis or if the care receiver has complex care needs. Caregiver stress can occur due to various reasons such as lack of support, financial strain, conflicting responsibilities, lack of privacy, and inadequate training or knowledge about the care recipient’s medical condition.

Let’s take a look at three common types of caregiver stress.

#1 Workload Stress

Workload stress is felt when caregiving responsibilities interfere with other life activities. It is important to not think workload stress is the tasks of caregiving. But how you feel about what is required of you as a caregiver and how it is affects your life. A caregiver with workload stress doesn’t have time for themselves, previous commitments, family members or family obligations. They just can’t imagine participating in fun or leisure activities as they don’t have the time or energy. Taking care of themselves becomes difficult and is often not done at all because they have no time to exercise, fix healthy meals or get enough sleep. It may not be the tasks themselves that create the stress but how the caregiving tasks are interfering with their life.

#2 Relationship Stress

Relationship stress is the tension and strain between the caregiver and care receiver due to caregiving. Even though the strain and tension are caused by caregiving, their past relationship history could be part of the stress they are feeling. Relationship history includes how close they were to each other, past difficult situations between them, how easily they communicate with each other and other experiences they have shared. An example of relationship stress would be when the caregiver feels the tasks, they are being asked to do by the care receiver are unnecessary or above what they think they should do. It also occurs when the caregiver feels the care receiver can do the task for themselves. Another example of relationship stress can happen when the caregiver is embarrassed because of the care receiver’s actions. Being uncertain how the care receiver will act or behave can cause relationship stress for the caregiver.

#3 Emotional Stress

Emotional stress is not related to any one specific task or event connected with caregiving.  It is stress associated with other parts of the caregiver’s life which are affected by caregiving. Examples would be a caregiver’s job, their family members, etc. Caregivers may experience emotional stress even when things are going well because they keep thinking they should be doing something. It can also be stress caused because they can’t do anything about the situation. They may also find themselves being anxious, nervous, fretting and agonizing about their future or about things they have no control over.

If left unmanaged, caregiver stress can have negative consequences for both the caregiver and the care reciever. For instance, the caregiver may become less able to provide adequate care, or their own health may suffer, leading to additional stress and strain. It is important for caregivers to prioritize self-care and seek support from family, friends, and healthcare professionals to prevent or manage caregiver stress.


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