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Three Little-Known Signs of Caregiver Stress

Updated: Feb 21, 2019

Being a caregiver can be like being in a continuous game of tug of war., but you're not on either end of the rope. You're in the middle, constantly being pulled in two directions. Sometimes you're actually being pulled in multiple directions. It's no wonder that caregivers sometimes suffer from sadness, fatigue and anxiety. These feelings are signs that you may be overwhelmed and in need of additional help with your caregiving duties. But there are other signs less commonly recognized that should also be red flags.

The Telltale Scale: Stress-Related Weight Gain

If you've gained weight even though you're not conscious of eating more, stress could be the culprit. Surveys say that around 40% of us deal with stress by eating, but even if you're not an emotional eater, you may cope with problems in ways that lead to weight gain. Maybe you are binge-watching instead of working out. Maybe you've increased your intake of alcohol. Adult beverages pack a double punch. Most of them are high calorie, and they can also trigger mindless eating.

Some people gain weight even though they are eating sensibly, exercising and avoiding alcohol. Stress alone can cause weight gain. Here's how. Humans are biologically programmed to respond to stress by releasing hormones, including cortisone and adrenaline. The stress in our ancestors' lives was usually a physical challenge. When the challenge was over, their bodies needed fuel, and the hormones nudged the body to eat. Today our challenges are more likely to be mental or emotional, but they can still cause the release of hormones that trigger the desire to eat. As a consequence, we may gain weight.

In addition, stress may increase our fat storage. When our ancestors were stressed, it was often because they were facing shortages of food or preparing for arduous tasks. Their bodies responded by storing fat. Today our stressed-out bodies may do the same thing, even though we're not facing famine or planning anything more strenuous than a trip to the supermarket.

Living in Slow Motion: Psychomotor Retardation

Have you ever been so stressed-out that you felt you couldn't put two words together? Slowed down speech is also a sign of depression that could be related to your caregiver role. Speech is one of a group of functions that are known as psychomotor skills. They involve the brain and the body working together. Psychomotor skills include walking and hundreds of other tasks that we do daily, and stress can keep us from performing them efficiently.

Slowed psychomotor skills, sometimes called psychomotor retardation, may not seem like a big deal, but moving and speaking in slow motion can affect your productivity, leading to frustration. Such slowdowns can also affect balance and co-ordination, sometimes leading to spills and accidents. Afterward you may awkward and klutzy, or feel that you can't do anything right. Feeling bad about yourself is the last thing a caregiver needs.

Lost Thrills: Anhedonia

Remember the thrill you feel at seeing a beautiful sight – maybe a colorful bird lighting on your windowsill, or a spectacular sunset. Imagine the intense pleasure of biting into a morsel of a favorite food, or the fun of hearing a favorite song on the radio. These small joys make life worth living. Some people who are suffering from depression lose the ability to enjoy these small pleasures. Psychiatrists call it anhedonia.

Anhedonia can be a symptom of clinical depression, but it can also be associated with milder stress-related depression. Anhedonia can have a major impact on how you perceive the world. Sufferers sometimes say that it feels as if the color has been drained from the world. Also, some people experience a decrease in their libido or in their ability to feel sexual pleasure. This can be dismaying not only to the person experiencing it but also to his or her partner. A lack of interest in making love can be interpreted as rejection and can have serious relationship repercussions at a time when you need support most of all.

What to Do

Symptoms such as the three listed above can be signs of depression that will require treatment, but they can also be signs of milder depression that can be relieved by addressing the root causes. If you are in a caregiving role and are experiencing multiple demands on your time and energy, you could be suffering from these symptoms as a result. In that case, easing your situation could relieve your symptoms. Getting help with your caregiver duties could make a drastic difference in your well-being. You could find it easier to return to your normal weight. You could find that you are moving and talking better and having fewer small accidents. You could even begin to enjoy life again.

If your depressive symptoms persist after you make life changes or if you have suicidal thoughts, see a health-care professional. If you are in the Fairfield, Connecticut, area and need help arranging home health care for a loved one, call Turtledove Home Care at (203) 255-1211 or visit us on the web at


· Greenberg, Melanie, Ph. D. “Why We Gain Weight When We Are Stressed, and How Not To.” Psychology Today. 28 Aug. 2013.

· Tracy, Natasha. "How Depression Affects Psychomotor Skills.” 14 June 2016.

· “What Is Anhedonia?” Healthline.

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