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Caregiver Mental Health: The Importance of You

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the things which you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Caregivers often put their entire heart and soul into the care they give others. For most being a caregiver was never a choice, more so a job taken on with determination and courage. Taking care of any child requires time, patience, understanding, love, and an immense amount work. When adding a child with a disability into the equation these requirements are greater. As a caregiver, it is important to take time for self-care. When caring for others it is important that you also take care of yourself.

A lush, living wall of greenery with neon sign that says "breathe" in script with a pale pink written at a 45 degree angle

Focusing on your breathing, an essential step in meditation, is a great way to calm your mind.

Parents/Caregivers face uncertainty and anxiety particularly as they adjust to their new caregiving roles. Arranging healthcare providers, keeping up with day-to-day needs, and making major medical decisions are just a few areas of concern ]caregivers have. All these tasks, and more, require a great deal of time and patience. Unfortunately, many caregivers get lost in the process.

Some parents find the needs of the child so overwhelming that they neglect their own health, either because it seems insignificant or because it is too costly to eat well and get proper rest and respite from caregiving responsibilities.
Freeman Miller, M.D.
Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon

Therefore, it is so important as a caregiver to identify symptoms of ongoing stress that may lead to anxiety or depression. Taking time for self-care and seeking professional guidance and counseling can mitigate and prevent caregiver burnout.

What do anxiety symptoms look like for caregivers? (ADAA, 2020)

  • Constant fearfulness, worry or impending doom and excessive sweating
  • Trouble eating or eating too much
  • Shortness of breath that keeps coming back
  • Sleep problems and irritability
  • Heart racing or beating hard in the chest

What do depression symptoms look like for caregivers? (ADAA, 2020) Depression for anyone can vary in symptoms. When looking at symptoms directly related to caregivers here are some things to consider:

  • Avoiding pleasurable or meaningful activities because you feel guilty about taking time off from caretaking
  • Repetitive nightmares or intrusive thoughts about the patient/loved one, including the diagnosis, treatments, or future prognosis
  • Inability to sleep (with falling asleep or sleeping too much)
  • Feelings of exhaustion, severe tiredness
  • Feelings of tension and chronic irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or remember details
  • Anxiety attacks about not properly following the medical regimen
  • Inability to talk to others about your experience as a caretaker
  • Anticipatory anxiety about future treatments for the patient/loved one
  • Thoughts of suicide because you feel so overwhelmed, worthless, or inadequate

A lush, living wall of greenery with neon sign that says "and breathe" in script with a pale pink written at a 45 degree angle

Focusing on breath going in and out can help bring about a more calm state.


Practical self-care tips:

Self-care encompasses many different things-some that many may have not considered. It can be a nice bath, or a hot shower, a walk around the neighborhood alone, or even a glass of their favorite beverage. If the activity is done with intention and is enjoyable it can be a form of self-care. Eating well and getting good sleep whenever possible can help prevent periods of burnout and severe drops in mood (Marilynn, 2018).

Caregivers are hard on themselves; they have a huge job to do. Sometimes the inner voice that whispers to always ‘do better’ needs to be muted. The self-critical voice has to be stopped for a louder self-compassionate one to emerge (Marlynn, 2018).

Another thing great for relaxation and self-care practices are breathing exercises (Marlynn, 2018). Deep breathing techniques done for only 5-10 minutes a day can help recenter the mind. Accompany these exercises with positive affirmations and conscious instruction to get the best results.

Affirmations can start with ‘I am’ and include statements like:

I am enough. I am worthy. I am a good caregiver. I am a great parent. I am capable.

Instructions that you speak aloud to yourself can look like:

I breathe in calm and relaxing energy.

I pause to let the quite energy to relax my body.

I breathe out and release any anxious or tense energy.

*Breathing exercises should never be painful or uncomfortable. Remember to always only do what is comfortable for you and modify exercises it to better suit your individual needs.

Other relaxation exercises can include yoga, tai chi, guided meditations, hypnosis, and progressive muscle relaxation. We live in a world where the internet offers plentiful resources where we can find a lot of information. Use the internet to help you find local programming or relaxation tools/apps or, seek the support of a licensed counselor/physician

Social support is also another important part of self-care. Caregivers do not have to take on everything alone; try and connect with people who are willing to help and support you. Take time to spend a day with friends. Join a support group whether it be online or through a community program. The Cerebral Palsy Research Network has an online forum with groups spanning many different topics.

It is important to realize when you or someone you know needs help outside of family support. Talk to a healthcare provider if you are struggling. Asking for help is okay! Remember to take care of others properly you must take care of yourself!

Friendship Line: 800-971-0016

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 (TALK)

SAMHSA: 800-662-4357 (HELP)

Samaritans: 877-870-4673 (HOPE) (call or text)

Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741

Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 (press 1) or Text 838255

References

Caregiver mental Health: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. Caregiver Mental Health | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). https://adaa.org/find-help/by-demographics/caregivers.

Marlynn Wei, M. D. (2018, October 17). Self-care for the caregiver. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/self-care-for-the-caregiver-2018101715003.

Miller, F., & Bachrach, S. J. (2017). Cerebral palsy: a complete guide for caregiving (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press.

Stiles, K. (2021, April 23). Depression hotline numbers. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/depression/depression-hotline-numbers#hotline-numbers.