Your spouse or aging parents are likely experiencing a serious ailment that requires full-time supervision. That responsibility fell into your hands. After weeks or months of caregiving, feelings of being overwhelmed or submerged in tasks can surface.
Over 40% of caregivers feel mentally stressed. 20% face financial issues, while another 20% reported feeling physically strained. These emotional and physical burdens translate to feeling trapped as a caregiver.
The feelings can come from various sources, such as isolation, loneliness, stress, and guilt. Fortunately, you can work through these issues by asking for assistance, talking to a friend, or seeking group support.
Why You May Feel Trapped as a Caregiver
As a caregiver, your experience is overflowing with daily medical reminders, care routines, oversight, and endless tasks. Short-term caregiving offers more leeway since it’s not permanent and more sustainable.
Meanwhile, long-term caregiving requires a thorough plan so you can maintain your health, physically and mentally. Aside from that, the trapped feeling comes from several facets.
Caring for a parent or spouse with dementia or other medical issues can strain your routine and life. You may feel like you can’t leave your loved one for any length of time to meet with your friends, run errands, or practice self-care.
In turn, you feel trapped by loneliness and the reduced frequency of going out. You may feel isolated from your friends. You could also feel uncomfortable with the prospect of allowing them to visit.
According to research, over 40 to 70% of family caregivers show signs of clinical depression caused by feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Aside from friends, you might have less time to spend with your own children and spouse. It may affect your marital and parental life. Caring for a loved one can consume most of your time, and you may have little time for social interactions leading to prolonged bouts of loneliness.
Caregivers looking after family members often feel burdened with guilt for various reasons. Their self-reproach can stem from not spending enough time with their family.
The guilt may come from feelings of anger or frustration over caregiving. It could also result from not caring well enough for loved ones or aging parents.
Family members who consider hiring a private caregiver may feel guilty about leaving their parent or spouse when handing the care over to a stranger. The feelings of guilt foster a hefty emotional burden on you and drain your energy, spirit, and time, making you feel trapped.
In some situations, caregivers have no option but to care for their spouse or aging parent. You may be dealing with financial difficulties that won’t allow you to provide professional home care for your loved one.
That’s where caregiver stress originates. In addition to experiencing caregiver burden, your finances might be exhausted from caregiving duties, expenses, medications, and doctor’s appointments. It may be difficult to purchase items you want or need or spend money on yourself.
Many caregivers find themselves unable to work full-time or at all, depending on the amount of care and supervision a loved one requires. Limited income adds additional financial stress for family members.
Understanding Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout occurs when a caregiver feels intense physical, emotional, and psychological exhaustion. After caring for a parent or spouse for a prolonged period, these feelings can affect your mental and physical health.
Caregivers who primarily focus their time and energy on a loved one may ignore or put off other facets of life, such as social interactions, as second-hand needs.
Caregiver burnout can also result in symptoms like increased stress, worry, and feelings of anger, particularly when a loved one’s condition is declining or they are presenting with behavioral challenges.
If you’re placing all your resources and efforts into making your parent or spouse feel comfortable, despite meeting all their needs, no progress can be discouraging. Caregiving can take an emotional toll on your mental health.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
Fortunately, you can identify caregiver burnout from its symptoms, whether you or someone else is experiencing them.
Caregiver burnout doesn’t affect all caregivers the same. Some caregivers experience more signs than others or for more extended periods. The symptoms of caregiver burnout can include the following:
- Isolation and loneliness
- Inconsistent sleeping patterns
- Getting upset over minor issues
- Feelings of resentment
- Neglecting personal care
- Drinking, overeating, or smoking
- Losing focus and thought
- Anxiety, impatience, and irritability
- Loss of energy
- Reduced immunity
- Struggling to relax
- Feeling restless, hopeless, and helpless
Preventing Caregiver Burnout
After recognizing the symptoms of caregiver burnout, you can take the steps to gradually place yourself in a healthier mental state. Preventing caregiver burnout is an ongoing process that takes proactive work by both the caregiver and the support networks around them.
Engage in Self-Care Activities
After the mental, physical, and psychological strain that comes with caregiving for a loved one, it may be time to reapproach the way you care for yourself. Understand that caring for others requires self-care.
Are you able to find respite care in your community? You can take a day to yourself and engage in a self-fulfilling activity. Reward and acknowledge your efforts by creating a list of your tasks. Then, reflect on how much you’re doing and that it’s enough.
Prioritize Social Interactions
Feeling trapped and cooped up in the caregiver role significantly reduces your social interactions. For this reason, you need to talk to someone and express your built-up emotions. Share your feelings with someone you can trust.
Alternatively, you can participate in a support group with other caregivers going through the same issues.
Support groups and other caregiving resources offer ideas for navigating the challenges of being a caregiver who feels trapped.
Listen to Your Body
Aside from the mental stress of caregiving, physical exertion can also trigger your feeling of entrapment. Overworking your body increases the stress factor.
Cortisol, or stress hormone, levels will increase. Subsequently, your blood pressure can spike and cause multiple other health complications. For this reason, you need to take a closer look at your eating habits and fitness levels while working as a caregiver.
Tips to Avoid Feeling Trapped as a Caregiver
To avoid the trapped feeling mushrooming inside you, ask yourself what you’ve been craving, or needing, for a while. After you identify what would help you feel better, explore with your support systems how to make it happen.
You can ask for assistance from a close family member or professional caretaker if you feel uncomfortable leaving your loved one alone.
Meet a Friend
Organize a meet-up with a friend you trust. Share your feelings of guilt, irritability, and anxiety. Talking about your caregiving challenges can make a world of difference to how you feel about your situation. If it’s possible, schedule an outing at least once every month.
Make sure you honor your friendship(s) by also asking how your friend is doing, don’t spend the entirety of your time together venting and asking for their support. While they may be there to help you, it’s important to recognize any challenges or frustrations they too may be feeling in their lives.
Change Your Environment
After caring for a loved one for some time, your home may often be left neglected. An unkempt, cluttered or dirty home can affect your mood.
Take the time to make your space inviting, decluttered, and relaxing. You can create a special corner dedicated to yourself as a reading nook, meditation, yoga space, or painting corner. These activities can help alleviate the feelings of entrapment.
Consider Asking for Help
Professional caregiving assistance can significantly reduce your workload and feelings of being trapped. There’s no guilt or shame in hiring a private caregiver to give a helping hand.
Professional caregivers can offer much-needed qualities for your loved one, such as patience, empathy, and observance. Private caregivers or a caregiver through an in-home care agency are trained to provide the services necessary to keep your loved one safe. By having some additional help, you are giving yourself and your loved one the gift of your own self-care.
Caregiver counseling is another way to support yourself, especially if you are wary of asking personal friends for their support. Counselors are trained professionals who can offer support in an objective way. They will also be privy to resources and supports that friends and family may be unaware of.
What to Consider Before Becoming a Caregiver
Before taking on the high-responsibility task of becoming a caregiver of an older adult, especially long-term, you’ll want to consider the following to decide if it’s right for you and your loved one.
- Cultivating a work-life balance
- Understanding the physical and mental strains involved
- Becoming educated about your loved one’s medical conditions
- Planning financial support for both your and your loved one’s needs
- Consider the needs of your loved one now AND in the future and how they will affect your ability to support them.
Caregiving can be time-consuming, physically exhausting, and mentally draining. Understanding these factors is essential before undertaking the role of a caregiver. Caregivers commonly struggle with burnout and feelings of being trapped.
Acknowledging and accepting the symptoms are the first steps to treatment. You can create a set routine where you meet a friend every week or do something you enjoy every couple of days.
Once you are able to find a balance of caregiving and self-care, your role will start to feel more manageable and rewarding rather than draining.
Feeling Trapped as a Caregiver Frequently Asked Questions
Feeling trapped as a family caregiver can manifest through various emotional, physical, and behavioral signs and symptoms. Some common indicators include persistent feelings of guilt, resentment, or anger, chronic fatigue or exhaustion, social withdrawal, and persistent negative thoughts or feelings of hopelessness. It is important to recognize these signs and symptoms early on, as they may indicate that a caregiver is experiencing significant distress and may benefit from support or intervention.
Caregivers may feel trapped in their role due to a combination of factors such as the high demands of caregiving, limited financial resources, and a lack of social support. Feelings of guilt, obligation, or cultural expectations can make it difficult for caregivers to seek help or prioritize their own well-being, further exacerbating the sense of entrapment. It is crucial to address these factors to alleviate the burden on caregivers.
To cope with feelings of entrapment as a family caregiver, it’s important to prioritize self-care, engage in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, and set realistic boundaries in caregiving responsibilities. Seeking support from friends, family, or caregiver support groups, and exploring available respite care services can also help alleviate the sense of being trapped and provide opportunities for emotional and physical relief.
Various resources are available to support overwhelmed families, including respite care services that provide temporary relief, caregiver support groups for emotional encouragement and practical advice, and professional counseling to address mental health concerns. Local and national organizations offer educational materials, resources, and assistance tailored to the needs of caregivers in diverse situations.
Amie Clark, BSW
Aging Advocate and Senior Care Expert
Amie has worked with older adults and their families for the past twenty-plus years of her career. Her senior care knowledge is based on her experience as a social worker, family caregiver, and senior care consultant. Learn more about Amie here.