7 Essential Tips for Caregivers: Managing chronic overwhelm and stress

If you’ve ever been a caregiver, you know how challenging it can be. Every moment can feel spoken for, and each day can bring new unexpected circumstances. You search for advice, caregiver tips, anything, but if can feel impossible to know how to prepare for and handle each day.

In my 20s, my mother was diagnosed with a rare case of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Our family was shocked, and as the oldest of three, my life as I knew it changed overnight. I became a caregiver, and I had no clue what to expect. I turned to the web. I read up on Alzheimer’s. I searched high and low for caregiver tips. I tried to mentally prepare myself, but nothing at all prepared me for the actual journey of caregiving.

Today, connecting with other caregivers and families, sharing the best caregiver tips I found, and having published a memoir on my experience, so many universal themes exist. Caregiving can feel isolating. It’s a mix of emotions. There’s rarely a moment of rest. It impacts one’s personal life, work, and health. Family and relationship struggles occur. And many caregivers carry guilt, feeling unable to take time off.

Despite how difficult it can all feel, caregiving is also a gift. I feel blessed to have cared for my mother so closely – to have played that role to her. Reminding myself that caregiving for my mother was something beautiful helped on those especially hard days. Caregiving, however, also requires compassion and grace every day.

Here’s 7 essential caregiver tips that can help you manage overwhelm and stay uplifted.

(1) Remember That You Are the #1 Priority… Caregiving affects stress levels, sleep, diet, mental and physical health. You may know and feel this, but feel you don’t have the time or energy to fix it. Remember, burnout doesn’t help anyone. You can’t effectively care for someone if you aren’t caring for yourself. Remind yourself of this so that you continually check-in and implement self-care or support as you need it.

(2) Be Intentional About Self-Care… Of all caregiver tips, this one tops the list. Often, caregivers lose any self-care practices they once had – things like staying active, eating well, reading a book, meditating, etc. You may feel you don’t have time in your busy, packed schedule. Be intentional about making self-care a non-negotiable. The secret is to block time for self-care into your schedule. Literally, write it in your calendar, e.g. “5:00pm: walk the park.” Research has proven the benefits of daily self-care on well-being. Keep it short to start, just 20 minutes per day, and stick to it. 

(3) Give Yourself Permission to Live… Many caregivers feel overly responsible. You may be doing much of the work alone, or know how dependent your loved one is on you. As a result, you may feel guilty doing anything for yourself, or even taking one night off. It’s critical to take breaks to re-charge. Caregiver should not be your sole title. You have a life to live, and it’s your purpose to live it. Make a date night. See friends. Take that much needed trip. You’ll feel refreshed and more relaxed as a caregiver when your mind, heart, body, and spirit stay full.

(4) Stay Physically Healthy… One of the most common setbacks of caregiving is on a person’s physical health. Again, you are the priority and self-care must be a non-negotiable. Ensure that you are eating well and staying active. If you’re struggling to do this alone, enlist help. Order pre-made healthy meals, hire a trainer, or commit to an online fitness program. When you’re feeling especially anxious, move. Research shows that any physical activity can literally move anxiety out of your body. Put on a song and dance.

(5) Don’t Keep It All to Yourself. Communicate… Caregiving can feel really isolating. It’s critical to communicate with others and have someone to vent to. It’s also important to communicate your needs. Instead of going through each day, facing the same challenges and overwhelm, communicate to others what you personally need for help. No one will know until you ask. Your job and responsibility as a caregiver is also to seek solutions and seek support.

(6) Trust Your Emotions… If you’re feeling really exhausted or feel like you’re at a breaking point, pay attention to this. Listen, reflect, and accept whatever emotions are coming up. These emotions are signals of what you need (mentally, emotionally, and physically). You may need to make a change in your caregiving routine, talk to someone, take time for self-care, or seek added support.

(7) Let Drama Go… When caregiving, family dynamics undoubtedly come into play. Arguments and disagreements occur. You may resent certain family members for not contributing, or even receive judgment or criticism from others. This stuff can easily find its way into your psyche and cause added stress. It’s critical to not over-focus on it, no matter how frustrating. Put these encounters into a box. You are doing your best. You may even know what’s best. Perspectives will always differ. Let things come and go, and focus on you. (Because refusing to accept negative energy is also non-negotiable self-care).

Resources, Support, and Conversation

  • If you have any tips of your own, I’d love to hear from you. Send me a message
  • You can buy my best-selling memoir, The Language of Time which I know it will resonate, inspire, and offer solidarity to you.
  • Book a coaching support session with me to work through whatever has you struggling as a caregiver.  We’ll get to the root of the issue and come up with a response plan to shift you into peace and confidence.