How to Handle Caregiver Stress One List at a Time

ByMelissa Burton, Counselor, LMSW

I have worked with a lot of families who tell me their lives were steady and trekking right along and then BOOM caregiving hits like a lightning strike. All of a sudden, the balance of life is thrown off and the fallout seems to impact every aspect of their life. It’s like holding on to marbles. As long as the number of marbles you are hanging onto sit nicely into the palm of your hand everything feels good, but as soon as you start piling them up too high you lose your grasp on every one of them. You literally lose your marbles. They don’t call caregiving the 36 hour day for nothing. Even moms of young children can relate to this time crunch dilemma. So, how do you balance your life responsibilities and be a loving caregiver at the same time? The key is to acknowledge your limitations and set your priorities. Below are steps you can take to start to feel more balanced.


  1. List out your responsibilities, Every Single One!! When you start to see everything you are expected to do you start to realize it is impossible for one person to accomplish everything on that list.
  2. Make a list of your priorities – Start to rank your responsibilities in order of importance. You may start to realize you have been spending too much time on low priority issues. Don’t forget to include self-care items on this list. Make a triage tree so that when two priorities collide you have a plan to how you are going to handle it.
  3. Make a list of must-do items – Take your priority list and put down the non-negotiable list that must get done. Each time you put something on this list ask yourself; Who is telling me this is a must do? Is this item in line with your priorities?
  4. Make a list to delegate – Go back to your first list and figure out items you can ask for help with or pay someone to take care of for you.
  5. Make a list of tasks you can stop doing – Now see if there are any items that can come off the list altogether. Maybe you can start grocery shopping online or decline to co-chair the volunteer fundraiser.
  6. Make a list of how to take care of yourself – You cannot sustain the long journey of caregiving without taking time to care for yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually.
  7. Make a list of healthy boundaries you are going to use when everyone you love starts to pull you in ten different directions – Yes to date night, no to picking up the dry cleaning that is directly on his way home from work. That can go on the delegate list. Yes to taking mom to her doctor’s appointment, no to taking her 10 non-urgent calls during work hours. Make sure you dole out the boundaries to everyone. Don’t put your husband on the back burner every time but constantly be at mom’s beck and call.  
  8. Show yourself grace – Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. Start with love and give compassion in equal measure to your family and to yourself.
  9. Celebrate your successes – Laugh, cheer, hug and smile with each success along the way.


No adult is prepared for the time when they have to become a parent to their parent…it is emotional, confusing and can be overwhelming. When both of my parents declined and required care at the same time, I was lucky enough to be referred to LifeLinks. . . Their professional care and compassion have supported me and my family in the most loving way and I can’t imagine where we would be without LifeLinks!”
— Mary Dams (daughter of a client)


Caregiving can often feel overwhelming and isolating. Talking to someone who has walked alongside families during this difficult journey can be a mental lifesaver. Remember that LifeLinks Counseling services are here to help.


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