When the Strain Becomes Too Much: What to Do When Caregiver Stress is Ruining Your Life


If you’ve been a caregiver for a long time, you know just how hard it can be. Perhaps, at first, you were more than willing to take on the job because you knew what it meant to your loved one. Maybe you managed the first few weeks or months or even years with ease, running from work to errands to your loved one’s – and back again. You played phone tag with doctors, scheduled treatments, and even played chauffeur. The lack of free time you had to yourself maybe didn’t seem like such a big deal in comparison to the good you were doing.

But over time, the pressures of caregiving can weigh anyone down. Feeling constantly stressed out and exhausted, it’s easy to stop going to your own doctor’s appointments, which can take a toll on your own health. 1 Since you’ve been taking care of another person, maybe your social life has become non-existent, or you’ve seen your work performance plummet.

If these scenarios about caregiver stress sound all-too-familiar to you, you may need to consider taking a break from being a caregiver. This is not an easy choice to make, and can be even more difficult to relay to your loved one. You need a way to explain this to your loved one and family, so here’s some advice on how to put into words why you can no longer be a caregiver.

How to Have a Tough Conversation About Caregiving

Gather Everyone Together

Try to have a face-to-face meeting, if you can. If not, alternative methods like Skype or Facetime will do just fine. Don’t rely on scattered phone messages and emails to bring up such an important topic. This diffuses the conversation, making it seem far less important than it is.

Bring Up the Primary Goal

You don’t want to seem nonchalant or unfeeling about your loved one’s care. And in truth, you’re not. But if you start out the conversation with a litany of complaints, it may come across as being unconcerned. Instead, begin by bringing up the primary goal, which is to keep your loved one safe, happy, and healthy in their own home. Then explain why your being the sole caregiver will no longer support that goal.

Tell Them About the Personal Toll

Your loved one and family members may have no idea the personal toll that caregiving is taking on you. Caregivers tend to put on a brave face, not wanting to bother anyone with their concerns. If you are truly suffering, let people know. They may try to get you to continue this method of caregiving anyway, but we tackle that below.

Say “No” to Guilt

Guilt-tripping is a common tactic used to manipulate people into following orders. Don’t let your loved one or family do this to you2! Remember: there’s no shame in asking for help when a situation becomes unbearable. In fact, not doing so could place you and your loved one at risk for poor health. Don’t hesitate to remind guilt-trippers of this!

Propose a Plan (or Two)

When you sit down to talk with your family members, suggest a contingency plan so others won’t think you’re leaving your loved one high and dry. But also welcome suggestions and solutions from everyone, as long as they don’t involve roping you back into being the sole caregiver. Options can include anything from having family members rotate caregiving responsibilities to hiring a home care aide who can provide care around the clock.

Be Firm

Explain, gently, that you’ve made your decision, and there will be no going back. If others think they can sweet-talk, guilt-trip, or manipulate you into changing your mind, they’ll try to do exactly that. By taking the present arrangement off the table, it forces others to look for alternatives, many of which won’t occur to them if they believe there’s a chance you’ll recant.

Be a Caregiver Who Knows Their limits

When you signed on to be a caregiver, it wasn’t supposed to take over your life. Indeed, too much caregiver stress can spell disaster – for both you and your loved one. It’s much more beneficial to both of you, as well as your family, if you know your limits and stick to them. This way, everyone can help find a home care solution, so your loved one will be looked after by many more people who love them!

If you’re unsure how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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