Caregiver support group cuts a cake at a monthly forum.

How to Deal with Stress as a Caregiver

It’s hard to avoid stress when you’re caring for a loved one with a serious injury or an ongoing wound or illness. Caregiving is an important job that can be extremely demanding. Remember, as a caregiver, managing your stress is one of the best ways to ensure you're able to stay strong and resilient, and care for your loved one. Pay attention to your body and your moods and find time for yourself. You need it and you deserve it.

Preventing compassion fatigue

Over time, the stress of caring for another person can cause something called "compassion fatigue." This is a common condition that can make you feel irritable, isolated, depressed, angry or anxious. It can even disturb your sleep and impair your judgment. Compassion fatigue can come on suddenly or build gradually over time, so it's important to check in with yourself regularly to note how you are feeling. MoodHacker is a resilience tool that helps you track, understand and improve your mood. Since relationships and stress often drive our level of satisfaction in life, this mobile solution can get you headed in the right direction.

Left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead to burnout and other conditions that may not go away on their own.

Build a support network

As a caregiver, having people you can count on when times get tough and you need backup can be invaluable. Here are a few tips for building a strong support network:

  • Stay connected to your community. Your community can be your installation, neighborhood, religious community, co-workers or even just a group of close friends. This community can give you a built-in network of local support when you need it most.
  • Join a support group. When you have struggles, sharing them with people who are in a similar situation can help you feel less isolated. People who understand may also be able to share new ideas and connect you with additional resources. The Peer 2 Peer Forum also provides the opportunity for caregivers to share knowledge, expertise, resources and ongoing support.
  • Seek out counseling. Talking with someone can sometimes help problems seem smaller and more manageable. Military OneSource offers confidential non-medical counseling — at no cost to you — in person, over the phone, by video or online.
  • Be there for others. Reach out to people in similar situations. A sympathetic ear can work wonders to relieve stress, and you can develop relationships that allow you to lean on each other.

Managing stress

The key to resilience amidst the challenges of caregiving is to be mindful of your own emotional and physical health.

  • Exercise and eat a balanced diet. Physical strength and health directly relate to your mental and emotional health. Connect with real-live coaching experts right on your phone or tablet with this resilience tool, CoachHub. Track and set goals from exercise and nutrition to stress reduction.
  • Take a few moments each day just for you. Make it a priority to do something just for you as often as you can. Try this simple Chill Drill designed by a therapist specializing in working with service members and their families to help reverse the symptoms of stress.
  • Resist feelings of guilt. If taking time for yourself sparks feelings of guilt, remind yourself that you can only provide care when you're doing well yourself.
  • Say "yes" when someone offers assistance. Don't be shy about accepting help. Allow others to feel good about supporting you and your loved one. Accepting help is an act of strength, not weakness.
  • Embrace a hobby. Doing something you love like painting, hiking, swimming or scrapbooking — no matter how little time you can spend — boosts your feelings of well-being.

You may feel that whatever stress or difficulty you are going through isn’t important compared to the struggles of your loved one; however, caring for yourself is the first step providing the support your loved one needs in the days to come.

Free and confidential non-medical counseling is available through Military OneSource. Call 800-342-9647 at any time. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. If you need immediate help or are experiencing a crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1).