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When Caregiving Causes Heartbreak

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When Caregiving Causes Heartbreak

When Caregiving Causes Heartbreak

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 44.4 Million Americans provide unpaid care for another adult, and one in three caregivers suffer from depression. These statistics do not include spouses, parents, siblings, and friends who are impacted by someone else’s addiction, or parents who are raising a child with special needs. That means most adult Americans are providing some kind of care for a loved one. And everyone needs to understand where their reactions and pain comes from and how it manifests itself.

What Is Caregiver Stress

When we do too much for others. Sometimes we do things they can do themselves. Sometimes, it’s not asking for help when we need it. Sometimes it’s having more responsibilities than any one person could possibly manage. This leads to emotional and physical stress. Each of us gets to the stressed out state in unique ways, but our symptoms are often the same. Per Most caregivers suffer from one or more of these symptoms:

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling increasingly resentful
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Cutting back on leisure activities

In My Case

I am a working mother with a working husband, a special needs child, and a lot of baggage. I grew up in an angry home. To feel safe, I was a magnet to conflicts, smoothed over ruffled feathers, and comforted the injured parties. By the time I was 10, this pattern of calming chaos and caring for others was my normal. When I turned 40, my body rebelled with an adrenal tumor. My recovery from that surgery was brutal. I lost most of my abdominal strength and my core range of motion was practically frozen. I suffered constant low back pain and spent most of my nights on a heating pad. This wasn’t the life I envisioned. Still, I resisted change for a long time. After three years, I took a HEART check.

My H.E.A.R.T. Check

A quick heart examination, the emotional kind, I mean, yielded shocking results. I suffered from all five major warning signs of extreme exhaustion and burnout. I was:

  • Hurting
  • Exhausted
  • Angry
  • Resentful
  • Tense

True to my nature, I stuffed these emotions for years, but they never went away. Instead, they grew. Finally, one day my resentment was bigger than my fear of change, and I walked into a meeting. In the rooms of recovery, I learned how to take care of myself. At first, my family resisted my new thinking. Without Mom to do everything, their to-do list grew. After a few months of adjusting, we’ve all benefited from my recovery. Learning to love myself gave me more time and energy to love my family in healthy, supportive ways, and we are all enjoying a more empowered life.

Burnout is a normal response to the imbalance of giving too much of your assets: time, money, love, and energy to others and not enough to yourself.

Prolonged periods of intense stress puts you at risk for burnout. You may be burnout if:

  • You have much less energy than you once had
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel helpless and hopeless

Preventing H.E.A.R.T. Break

When I ignore my body’s stress-induced pleas for rest, and when those around me are not as sensitive to my needs as I might wish, my irritation grows. Sometimes my reactions are angry when I don’t mean them to be. This morning I snapped at my son. I hate that I spoke hurtful words to my beautiful son. When I take care of myself, this doesn’t happen.

In Recovery We Work On Doing The Next Right Thing

That means we stay in touch with ourselves and our feelings. This may involve finding some quiet time every day to do a mini feelings inventory:

  • What’s bothering me?
  • What physical and emotional needs have I been ignoring?
  • What unacceptable behaviors am I accepting?
  • What can I do about it?

Journaling is one way to process what is happening. We have no control over other people’s behavior, but we do have control over our own. Recovery teaches us that. So all you caregivers out there, be as gentle, patient, loving, and compassionate for yourself as you are, all too often for others.

Reach Out Recovery Exclusive By Pam Carver

If you need help with addiction or mental health, click on the image below to find professional resources in your area.



Pam is the author of Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and she’s a contributing editor for Recovery Guidance. She’s a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.

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