People who are seriously ill and need caregiving suffer from anxiety, but caregivers do, too.
It takes a great reserve of mental strength to care for someone else, but you also need to deal with your own emotional struggles and needs.
“Caretaking is about giving of yourself – your time, your energy, and your emotions – to someone who is suffering,” writes Ryan Rivera. “The emotional effects can be pronounced. One of the most common consequences is caretaker’s anxiety.”
The anxiety of caregiving can be due to lack of self-care, concerns over ability, verbal abuse, and personal mortality, a reflection on your own mortality as someone falls deeper into a serious and sometimes terminal illness.
Ways to cope include therapy, which requires asking for help, support groups, spending time with friends, reducing non-caregiving anxiety, and keeping yourself “calm and collected,” Rivera adds.
“The person you are caring for needs you to be happy, content, and on the top of your game,” writes Rivera. “Find coping strategies that work for you, and make sure that you're treating your mental health with the importance it deserves.”
Feeling empowered keeps anxiety at bay, so embrace your caregiving choice, but acknowledge that despite any resentments or burdens you feel you have made a conscious decision to provide care. This goes hand in hand with focusing on the things you can control and avoiding stress over the things that you can’t.
Celebrate the small victories. You need to remind yourself that all your efforts matter. Never underestimate the time and energy you put into a loved one’s comfort and care, even when you start to feel discouraged.
Seek the appreciation you deserve. There’s nothing wrong with a pat on the back, and you should be willing to ask for it from friends and family. Applaud your own efforts, especially when you’re going through a particularly anxious time and beginning to doubt your contributions.
You also need to give yourself a break and maintain your life outside of caregiving. Maintain your personal relationships, prioritize activities that bring you enjoyment, find ways to pamper yourself, make yourself laugh whenever possible and, by all means, get out of the house and into a different environment for some perspective.
You have to take care of yourself physically, too. Keep up with doctor visits, make sure you exercise regularly, learn to meditate, eat well, and don’t skimp on sleep no matter what the situation is. You’re less valuable to the person you care for when you’re less valuable to yourself.
Accept uncertainty and schedule worry time. “Fear of the unknown plays a huge role in anxiety,” writes Marlo Sollitto. “Chronic worriers can't stand doubt or unpredictability. They need to know with 100 percent certainty what's going to happen. The problem is no one can predict the future or control of the outcome of every situation.”
It’s okay to worry. You just need to set aside time for it so worrying doesn’t leak into every crevice of your life.
“Our worries tend to be like the constant dinging of emails: they show up throughout the day, and we stop everything to address them,” Sollitto writes. “If you find yourself constantly fretting about things, set aside a 30-minute period each day where you do nothing but worry. During your worry period, you're allowed to worry about whatever's on your mind. The rest of the day, however, is a worry-free zone.”
After his mother was hospitalized twice in two months for falls, Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD, was consumed with worry about her. Jacobs is a clinical psychologist, family therapist, and author of the book, “The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers — Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent.”
He noticed his cell phone kept buzzing during an important work meeting and his mind focused — with anxiety — over every little thing that could be wrong with his mother. His attention wandered. The messages all turned out to be about other matters. His mother was fine.
“It was then that I realized I was suffering from something more disruptive and uncontrollable – rampant anxiety,” he writes. “Anxious caregivers, for all their good intentions, are often hobbled by their fears. But fear can be reduced to normal, manageable worries if we are willing to approach our anxiety as a treatable condition.”
August 05, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN