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Information about the author of this post.
tlwe223's picture Terri Weber, MSW, CSW
Elder Care Specialist
College or Department
Work-Life and Well-Being
Phone Number
(859) 218-0457
Email Address

Stress is an unavoidable part of being a caregiver. It comes with the territory. Caring for an older loved one is both mentally and physically exhausting, and often there is no relief in sight. But it is important for your long-term health and well-being to find ways to take care of yourself and manage stress. Taking care of yourself is an ongoing, conscious effort. Being able to recognize when you are overwhelmed, exhausted, frustrated or resentful is important not only to you but also to the person you care for.

The American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation developed an online tool, the Caregiver Self Assessment, to help quantify the stress levels of caregivers. Take a few minutes now to take the assessment and see where you fall on the stress scale.

How did you do? Are you surprised? There are things you can start to do right now to lower your stress and anxiety, relieve pain and improve focus.

Ways to reduce stress

1. Practice deep breathing. Breathing sends a message to our brain to calm down and relax. It increases the amount of oxygen in our blood and very quickly relaxes us. When we are stressed or anxious, our breathing tends to be irregular and shallow. Deep breathing is a practice that enables more air to flow into our body and can help calm our nerves, reducing stress and anxiety. While practicing these techniques, make a conscious effort to concentrate on just breathing. Here are two breathing techniques to try:

The 4-7-8 breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, also known as relaxing breath.

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds
  • Hold the breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale for 8 seconds
  • Continue repeating three or four times.

Square Breath or Equal Breath focuses on making your inhales and exhales the same length. To do this:

  • Inhale for a count of four
  • Hold the breath in for a count of four
  • Exhale for a count of four
  • Hold the breath out for a count of four
  • Continue repeating three or four times. 

2. Write it down. Journaling reduces stress by serving as an escape or emotional release for negative thoughts and feelings. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you gain control of your emotions, reduce stress, deflect anger and develop clarity. This is something personal; you don’t have to share it with anyone. You don’t need to worry about penmanship, grammar or which words you choose. Getting your thoughts down on paper and out of your head will free up your mind to think more clearly and rationally about your situation. 

3. Turn on your favorite music. Music can have therapeutic effects on a range of mental and physical health conditions. Research suggests music has significant power to help reduce stress and anxiety, relieve pain and improve focus. 

4. Get out for a walk. Exercise is a great de-stresser. Walking promotes the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that stimulate relaxation and improve our mood. Being outdoors is an added plus. Being outside lowers your stress hormone (cortisol) and decreases your heart rate.

5. Connect with others, whether it be a friend, a family member, a support group or your pet. When we connect with others it increases the hormone oxytocin and that, in turn, decreases anxiety which allows us to feel more confident in dealing with our stressors. Spending time with others will direct our focus outward, rather than inward. When we reach out to others we are temporarily distracted from our own circumstances.

6. Start researching respite care. Taking a break from your caregiving responsibilities — be it a few hours or a few days — is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for the person you are caring for.

  • In-home respite — home care agencies or independent home care aides can provide companionship and light care duties for a few hours a day.
  • Adult day care centers — these programs provide care and social interaction.
  • Short-term care facilities — many assisted, personal/memory, and skilled care facilities will accept folks who need assistance and care for short-term stays.

Know the warning signs
Caregivers often do not even realize that their own health and well-being is being jeopardized. Watch for signs of caregiver stress. Too much stress over too long a time causes irreversible harm. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, the elevated levels of stress hormones and increased blood pressure can increase your risk of hypertension, heart attack or stroke.

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

Resources to help
UK HR Elder Care — find resources and get the support you need to help in your caregiving journey. Care Group — connect with other UK caregivers on the third Wednesday of every month, noon to 1 p.m.
UK Mental Health Therapists, Mental Telehealth from LiveHealth and Emotional Well-Being
Alzheimer’s Association  — 24/7 Helpline – 1-800-272-3900
Help and Support – webpage with links to Support Groups and Education Programs
ALZConnected — free online community/message board
There are no easy solutions or answers in caregiving. Caregiving is a balance between being respectful and doing what is necessary to care for your loved one and doing what is needed to respect your own wants and needs as a caregiver and as an individual.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,
Terri Weber