Julie Answers: Work stress and being a caregiver — how much is too much?

Julie Borden
5 min readDec 16, 2021

Alma asked: Should I take a new job I’m interviewing for that is much more responsibility than before? I was laid off last month. I don’t need this new job right now. I have some temp work doing the same as before and with the same pay. I am also a part-time caregiver for my mom with dementia.

Image by Sabine van Erp on Pixabay

Dear Alma,

I’m glad you reached out, because a decision like the one you are faced with deserves a lot of careful consideration.

A key factor in your question is that you are a part-time caregiver for your mom. Being a caregiver is a huge responsibility. Few people who have not actually done it realize how emotionally taxing it can be. In fact, even some people who have done it don’t give themselves credit for all that they do. In my experience, they might see it as, “I’m just helping take care of my mom,” or “Just doing what needs to be done,” “Doing what any daughter would do,” etc.

It reminds me of a realization one of my clients had about this. She lives with her mom and her grandmother, who has dementia and various health needs. Her mom took primary responsibility for the grandmother, so my client was “just” helping out when needed. This went on for months — she was working full-time, trying to keep up some kind of a social life and friend connections, and navigating the situation at home. I could tell she was getting increasingly stressed, and tried to validate that she had a lot on her plate and it was important to acknowledge that, give herself credit, and have some self-compassion when she had moments of thinking she wasn’t doing enough, feeling guilty that she wasn’t always able to give a full 100% at work, and wasn’t always as patient as she thought she should be with her mom and grandma.

Then one week at our session she shared that she had done some research about caregiving, and it gave her an entirely new view of the situation. She learned the term “secondary caregiver,” and how that was how her role would be defined in helping her mom with her grandma’s care. The article said that even secondary caregivers experience significant stress, are at risk for depression, and might be likely to neglect their own needs — for regular medical care, rest, recreation, etc. It was revelatory to her to learn…

Julie Borden

Social worker, therapist, reader, writer, head-in-the-clouds dreamer, awed by most everything. (She/her) Reach me at JulieBordenLCSW@gmail.com.