The REAL Source of Family Caregiver Stress

Dr. Macie Smith discusses the root sources of stressors for family caregivers and how to manage them in a healthy way.

Most people would agree that being a family caregiver can be stressful. But the reason WHY it’s stressful may surprise you.

Let’s Start at the Beginning

A recent article in the Journal of Gerontology explains that the caregiving role typically emerges out of a prior family role, most often a child or spouse.

As a family caregiver assumes greater responsibilities for care, he or she experiences an identity change in relation to the person receiving care. This shifting view of identity – also called “caregiver identity discrepancy” – continues to evolve as the tasks and responsibilities of the caregiver change in response to the changing needs of the person being cared for.

For example, a daughter may easily assist her mother with paying bills or shopping without experiencing a great deal of stress. However, as the disease progresses, the needs of her mother and the demands placed on the daughter increase. As this process unfolds, the daughter’s caregiving activities gradually intensifies and she begins to feel less and less like a daughter.

THIS is one of the reasons family caregivers experience a great deal of stress; they are in constant conflict with two very important competing roles. In this scenario, it’s not the actual delivery of care that is stressful, it is being at odds with this new identity the daughter has assumed.

How Does This Play Out In Family Caregiving?

In the study, researchers wanted to understand the relationship between family caregiver stress and a caregiver’s intention to place the care receiver in an alternate care setting now or in the future.

The general belief is that the stress of this identity crisis shows up in different ways, such as feeling resentful that caregiving activities and responsibilities are infringing on other aspects of the caregiver’s life, such as time and energy to address other family obligations, leisure activities, and personal privacy.

The caregiver can also feel taken advantage of by the care receiver who demands more care than the caregiver feels is warranted. And as the stress accumulates, family caregivers can begin to feel depressed.

Local Support is Available

The good news is that researchers showed that caregiver support services have a positive impact on caregivers experiencing this identity-based stress.

That means working with a care manager or social worker to develop a care plan that helps caregivers align their main identity with care activities and responsibilities can play an important role in reducing caregiver stress.

A key part of this care plan is identifying local services and support that the caregiver can tap into to reduce the caregiving responsibilities – things like medication delivery, transportation options, Meals on Wheels, and respite care from a home care company like SYNERGY HomeCare.

Make Self Care Part of the Plan

Attention to self-care in the form of reducing emotional stress, being kind to oneself and improving overall health is also important to address. Positive self-talk can help manage stress. For example: Instead of saying, “I can’t do this,” say, “I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got this.”

Getting some form of exercise or activity can go a long way in reducing stress – and it doesn’t have to involve an hour-long session at the gym. Try some easy stretching or a few yoga poses in your living room, walking around the block, or a 10-minute dance party in your kitchen.

It’s also really important to get enough sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours a night and don’t be afraid to prioritize a quick power nap during the day. Taking a short 20-minute nap has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief.
Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Dr. Macie P. Smith is a licensed gerontology social worker who is focused on helping families support their aging loved ones through long-term care. Specifically, Dr. Smith educates caregivers on how to care for seniors with dementia. She is an advocate for specialized care and assists others in finding a way to provide a better quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Smith has dedicated over 22 years of her life working in gerontology and assisting families in finding personalized solutions for dementia care. For more articles by Dr. Macie Smith, go to


For more information about SYNERGY HomeCare, visit Download the Family Caregiver Ultimate Guide.

SYNERGY HomeCare offers no obligation home assessments. Find a location near you or Contact us to talk to a Memory Care specialist.

Call us | 877-432-2692

877-432-2692 877-432-2692