Coping with Stress

Here’s how to manage your 
time, energy, and emotions while still meeting the needs of the person you’re caring for

Being a caregiver for someone with a serious illness or chronic condition isn’t easy. It’s easy to feel overburdened, overstressed, and overwhelmed.

As a result of the constant stress they’re under, caregivers often deal with fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, a lowered immune system, and much more. November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to focus on how caregivers can cope and remain healthy mentally and physically.

In his book Solace: How Caregivers and Others Can Relate, Listen, and Respond Effectively to a Chronically Ill Person, Walter St. John, EdD, shares 10 ways for caregivers to effectively cope with stress:

(1) Have realistic expectations for yourself. “You must know when to step back to recharge your energy batteries; in fact, setting healthy boundaries is best for you and for your loved one.”

(2) Obtain advice on caregiving from experienced caregivers.

(3) Accept that as a caregiver, you need help.

(4) Control the caregiving situation, rather than letting it control you. Even though you have volunteered to take care of someone else’s needs, you are not at the mercy of or under the complete control of the ill person.

(5) Live your own life. When some individuals become caregivers, they consciously or unconsciously push the “pause” button on their own lives. The intentions may be good, but the results can be extremely unhealthy.

“Be empathetic with the ill person regarding his or her personal problems (i.e., those that don’t relate to his or her health, medical care, and immediate needs), but refrain from making these problems your own.”

(6) Insist on some private time each day. For the sake of your own mental, emotional, and even physical health, it’s crucial that you set aside time to take care of your own needs and desires.

(7) Keep mentally and physically fit. You’ll be best equipped for the responsibilities and demands of caregiving if you maintain your mental and physical health:

• Eat balanced, nutritious, stress-free meals at about the same time each day.

• Get adequate sleep on a regular basis.

  • Take several brief rest periods daily.
  • See your doctor promptly when you need to.
  • Schedule periodic medical examinations.
  • Beware of too much self-medication (e.g., taking tranquilizers).
  • Get lots of exercise regularly.


(8) Learn to say no. If you’re around someone who’s ill, demands will be made of you. It’s crucial to understand, though, that you can’t say yes to everything. While you may be the “healthy one,” you still have physical and mental limits.

(9) Encourage the ill person to do as many things for him- or herself as he or she can without overdoing it. Try to identify what your loved one can handle without becoming overwhelmed and exhausted (some examples might include paying bills, folding laundry while seated, and sorting medication), and then encourage him or her to take on these jobs.

(10) Know ahead of time what to say or do when your patience becomes exhausted. Do what is necessary to remain cool and collected, even if you have to pause for a few seconds or leave the room. You can’t always control the ill person’s behavior, but you can control your own response.

Take Care of Yourself!

“The bottom line is, you need to take care of yourself first if you want to effectively care for the ill person,” St. John concludes. “Sacrificing yourself unnecessarily doesn’t do anyone any good. And remember, it’s okay — and encouraged! — to spend time on yourself.”

About the Author

Dr. Walter St. John is a retired college professor and administrator who has hands-on experience with disabled veterans, multihandicapped youth, and Special Olympics participants. He has written widely in the field of communications.

St. John received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, with a major in communications. He earned his doctorate from the University of Southern California, where he majored in management and minored in counseling.

To read the complete book Solace: How Caregivers and Others Can Relate, Listen, and Respond Effectively to a Chronically Ill Person (Bull Publishing Company, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-933503-62-2, $14.95), visit major online booksellers or 

Note: PNO and PVA do not endorse or recommend products or services. This article is for information purposes only.

For information about National Family Caregivers Month, visit Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) at


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