Three Warning Signs and Three Simple Actions to Soothe Care Partner Breakdown
“I keep thinking I should do more to help Mom as her Alzheimer’s progresses,” a friend recently told me. “I visit Mom in Chicago every month but I worry that’s not enough. Yet I have my work and my family here in Kansas City. I’m torn in two and the stress is eating me up.”
It’s so difficult to be a long distance care partner. I was lucky: my parents moved close to me when Mom was diagnosed with dementia. Yet even though I was nearby, I shared some of the stresses my friend described. My stomach hurt most of the time. As I dashed around the house, getting ready to go see Mom in the Memory Care Unit, I frequently bumped into furniture. I found myself mentally drifting away during meetings and unable to concentrate when I sat at the computer to write. And even though I had wonderful, supportive friends, I often felt an aching loneliness. Later, I learned these were normal symptoms of caregiver’s fatigue.
I asked my friend Linda Moore, psychologist, community leader, and author of the book, “What’s Wrong with Me?” to tell me more about recognizing and managing such exhaustion. Here are some of her insights.
Three Areas Where Stress Screeches You to a Halt
“Your body is the early warning system,” Linda says. “But most people try to ignore the on-going tiredness, low energy, muscle spasms, unfamiliar aches and pains, and GI issues.”
Emotional and Spiritual
Often, after I’d spent hours solving problems around Mom’s care, I had a heavy feeling of disconnection and a dull anger. Nothing mattered and I felt sad, rootless, and lonely. But I kept going.
“Care partners tend to push past their feelings,” Linda says.
“Poor concentration is one common sign of stress,” Linda says. When friends say, “You’re just not acting like yourself,” it’s a cue to slow down and drink a cup of soothing tea, read a short magazine article, or phone a friend. Other stress symptoms include procrastination and isolating yourself.
Fight Breakdown with the MEE Plan
“Meditate, even if it’s just for a minute,” Linda advises.
Sit quietly, count to four as you breathe in and count to six as you breathe out. Watch your thoughts wiggle around. One minute of meditation calms you, five minutes energize you, and twenty minutes of daily meditation can center you and give you a greater sense of well-being.
“Everybody knows it works and no one wants to do it,” Linda says. Even when you’re so tuckered out that your fingernails feel heavy, movement matters. Five minutes just walking around the house or prancing around to “Dancing Queen” can ratchet up your energy. Fifteen minutes of walking can lift your mood. Even a jog up stairs or unloading the dishwasher can shift your energy.
Is a banana really as delicious as a dark chocolate truffle? Many would say no. But most would agree, the banana is better for you. Even if you often eat on the run, choose fruits and vegetables to snack on. Throw in salads, soups and nuts. And don’t forget the truffle: be sure you indulge every so often in a comfort food you really adore.
Lastly, Linda advises, “Don’t give away your personal power: ask for help when appropriate and learn to say no.”
For more information about keeping your personal power and reducing stress, visit
Dr. Linda Moore is a psychologist, author, speaker and consultant in Kansas City. She specializes in the psychology of women, stress management, and leadership.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
Deb, this one was great. You don’t have to be Catholic or Jewish to feel guilt. Would love to see a column dealing more specifically with guilt whether it is earned or not. I alwasy felt that when my mom was so sick for so long, I had to DO SOMETHING even though there was nothing to be done. But she had alwasy made things right for me as a child and I couldn’t reciprocate.
My favorite poem about the death of my mom:
Today is your 76th bifthday
the first one
you never had.
Candy, your poem is so powerful. You have been such an amazingly loyal and strong daughter, mom and grandmother.
Candy, I just passed the first birthday my mother never had (her 82nd), and my father’s is coming up near the end of April (April 25 — the day we will hold his memorial, and also his 82nd birthday).
Blessings on you,
“so tuckered out that your fingernails feel heavy” — it can happen! Thanks for a great reminder that caregivers have to take care of themselves.