Becoming the primary caregiver for a family member can be incredibly exhausting and stressful, mentally, physically, and emotionally. The dynamic is complicated further when one must become the primary caregiver for their spouse. Despite the often overwhelming burdens of caregiving, studies also show that helping and caring for others improves our wellbeing and can be greatly beneficial to mental health.
Now, a new study from the Yale School of Public Health, Stony Brook University, the University of Michigan, and the University at Buffalo set out to investigate this dichotomy in caregiving and find the parameters that lead to greater fulfillment and improved well-being to lessen the negative, demanding effects.
The researchers conducted two studies and observed caregivers whose spouses suffered chronic pain. The first study included 73 caregivers who reported on their tasks and emotional state every three hours. In the second study, participants were asked to write in a diary at the end of the day fully describing their activities and how much they felt appreciated.
The researchers, led by Michael Poulin from the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology, found that helping behaviors can reduce stress, but appreciation and recognition for the tasks given is a key part of the equation.
“Spending time attempting to provide help can be beneficial for a caregiver’s mental and physical well-being, but only during those times when the caregiver sees that their help has made a difference and that difference is noticed and recognized by their partner,” said Poulin.
The study found that being a caregiver and engaging in helping behaviors can be rewarding and actually decrease the stresses of caregiving. However, these benefits are only truly felt when gratitude is adequately expressed by the beneficiary.
Poulin’s study is important in that it shows how to alleviate the some of the stress of caregiving. The findings could also help implement social programs and community resources that help caregivers and their spouses properly communicate and make sure emotional needs are met for both parties.