Caregiver stress: tips for taking care of yourself

Canadians point to money as our greatest stress, with research by the Financial Planning Standards Council in 2018 showing that over 48 per cent of Canadians say they’ve lost sleep due to stress over debt, managing household costs, saving for goals, and unexpected expenses. What we earn, spend and save doesn't just affect our bank account but is tied to our mental well-being.

TD is working with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) on a series focused on how the relationship between financial and mental well-being is affecting the lives of Canadians. This series will also suggest some advice for individuals and caregivers on ways they can manage their financial and emotional well-being in an effort to help address some of the stigma preventing us from having healthier conversations related to money and mental wellness.


Being a caregiver is increasingly becoming a part of life for many Canadians. It's an important role and one that can be rewarding for those who are able to be there for a loved one in a time of need. Yet, there's no denying that it can often be stressful and challenging.

According to Statistics Canada more than one in four Canadians puts in regular hours providing care for family members and friends with chronic illnesses or disabilities. In addition to caring for a loved one, caregivers often balance other competing demands, such as working or raising a family.

"Caregivers are often naturally so focused on their loved one, that the last thing they focus on is themselves," said Dr. Yona Lunsky, senior scientist and director of the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

"While caregiving can be very fulfilling, juggling those duties along with those outside the role comes with a lot of emotional, physical and financial impacts," said Lunsky, who works with family caregivers of people with developmental disabilities.

"These often invisible, hidden and unexpected challenges can affect even the most resilient people beyond their roles as caregivers."

Maintaining emotional and physical well-being

Lunsky says that as every caregiver situation is different, some individuals may cope better with caregiver duties than others.

"For instance, if you're caring for your child who was diagnosed with an illness or disability from a young age, you may become familiar and comfortable with those caregiving responsibilities over time, compared to those who find themselves suddenly caring for a spouse or parent," she said.

Regardless of the type of caregiving one provides, Lunsky says it's important to be aware of how your life has been impacted outside of any caregiver duties.

READ: Building a better future for mental health

"Pay attention to your sleeping patterns, eating habits, how you are feeling emotionally and physically and look at what has changed since you have become a caregiver," she said. "Are you still connecting with people socially? Do you have opportunities to focus on any interests separate from your caregiving responsibilities, even in a a small way? These are important considerations when it comes to analyzing your mental and physical wellness."

While there isn't one answer that works for every caregiver, Lunsky says it is important to explore options to help maintain your emotional and physical health. After all, if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of anyone else.

"This can include ensuring you are staying physically and socially active, talking to a family member, friend or a professional, seeking caregiver support and services, and taking breaks by sharing caregiver duties with others when possible," she said.  

Although maintaining one's own emotional and physical health is vital, Lunsky says managing the financial impact of caregiving is another significant factor that is often overlooked by caregivers. Left unchecked, financial stress can add to an already challenging situation.

Supporting financial wellness

According to 2014 research from the University of Alberta, 15 per cent of employed caregivers reduced their paid work hours to provide care, cutting back their employment hours by nine to 10 hours per week, on average. Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada estimates the annual cost of lost productivity to be roughly 1.3 billion dollars to Canadian employers.

"If you're caregiving full-time, you're likely not earning income separate from that," said Lunsky. "But in many situations, even if you’re only caring for someone part-time, those unpaid caregiver duties and responsibilities can interfere with your presence at work or with your ability to work."

READ: How to talk about finances with a loved one living with Alzheimer's disease

Colleen Stewart, a regional Private Trust manager at TD, says that sometimes it's the actual act of caregiving that can be very expensive.

"Often, out-of-pocket expenses, such as medical or transportation costs, or even hiring help to assist with care can be costly," said Stewart, stating that if the person you are caring for does not have proper documentation, such as a power of attorney for personal care or a power of attorney for property, caregivers can be left to navigate the financial and personal aspects of caregiving on their own.

Stewart says that while many individuals may consider seeking a financial advisor when it comes to significant financial moments, such as buying a home, planning for unexpected events—such as providing care to a loved one—isn't often a top priority for many. And, with most people predicted to become an informal caregiver to a friend or a family member at some stage in their life, Stewart says that taking those extra measures to financially prepare in advance for those responsibilities can be critical.

"We know the caregiver role is so vital and having financial measures and proper documentation in place ahead of time can make a big difference not only to the caregiver, but to the person being cared for as well."