Balancing your life and responsibilities as a caregiver can feel overwhelming. This is why it’s common for caregivers to feel anxious. Anxiety is a strong feeling of worry or fear.
Causes of Anxiety in Caregivers
Caregiver anxiety can be caused by many things, such as:
- Managing many responsibilities.
- Having to do medical tasks you aren’t prepared for.
- Feeling like you don’t have control over your own life.
- Concerns about your care receiver’s well-being.
- Uncertainty about the future.
- Not having enough support from your family, friends, healthcare team, or other people in your life.
Signs of Anxiety in Caregivers
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, or both. It’s important to recognize the signs of anxiety and ask for help when you need to. The following things can be signs of anxiety:
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued (feeling more tired and weak than usual)
- A faster heart rate than usual
- Nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up)
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
- Chest pain
- Muscle tension
- Trouble concentrating and remembering; mind going blank
- Being irritable
- Trembling or shaking
- Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
- Worrying that you aren’t able to control the situation
Some people may experience severe anxiety as a panic attack. During a panic attack, people may experience a combination of some of the symptoms above plus:
- Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
- Feelings of impending doom
- Feelings of being out of control
Remember that many of these are also signs of depression. Anxiety and depression can happen at the same time. Talk to your physician and Read Depression and Family Caregiving
Some symptoms can be caused by medical issues or medications you’re taking. This is why it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you experience any of these signs, talk with your healthcare provider.
How to Manage Your Anxiety
Anxiety not only affects your mood, but it can also affect your health and the care you provide. As a caregiver, you may be handling a lot of important tasks. Balancing all these tasks while making sure you have enough time to focus on your needs can be very hard.
Caregivers often feel guilty or selfish about taking time for themselves. Some are afraid that something will happen to their loved one if they aren’t there. But, if you need to be a caregiver for a long period of time, you have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you will soon feel like you’re too stressed or tired to do anything and won’t be able to do the important work of caregiving.
Here are some things you can do to help you with anxiety.
- Medical assessment and treatment – If your anxiety is getting in the way of your daily activities, talk to your physician.
- If drug therapy is recommended, a certain amount of trial and error is necessary to find the right type and dosage of medication. Some medications may take several weeks before you might feel significantly better. Good communication between you and the doctor is important.
- Short-term counseling or psychotherapy.
- Join a virtual program online or safely in person.
- Try relaxation techniques. Mindfulness and other stress management techniques.
- Ask for help and accept it. Ask your friends and family members for help with household chores or with preparing meals. When people offer their help, accept it.
- Prioritize tasks. Being a caregiver comes with many responsibilities, such as managing medications, cooking, handling paperwork, scheduling appointments, monitoring symptoms, and much more. Choosing what you need to do first will help you stay organized and feel less overwhelmed. You may find it helpful to create a checklist of the things you need to do today, this week, or this month. If you aren’t sure how to prioritize tasks, ask for help.
- Check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you’re feeling and consider your own emotions. Some caregivers find it helpful to keep a journal. Others find it helpful to write out their thoughts and feelings. Some prefer to express themselves through art, yoga, or dance.
- Make time for yourself. Balancing your own responsibilities with your caregiving role can make taking care of yourself feel impossible. Self-care will not only make you feel better, but will also help you take better care of your loved one.
- Do some light physical activity. Light physical activity can be going for a walk or a short bike ride. Physical activity can help improve your mood and relieve stress. Talk with your doctor before starting new exercises.
- Spend time with friends and family. It’s important to create a support system for yourself as a caregiver. Anxiety and your caregiving responsibilities can make this feel hard to do, but staying connected to people who can support and talk with you about your experience can help reduce stress and make you feel better.
- Find out if your workplace has an employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs can be different depending on where you work, but they often include counseling for financial problems, stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Use your resources. Is respite care relief for you available?
- Call 211 and ask to talk to your local area agency on aging or ADRC
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Mayo Clinic – Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P.
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Cancer
Edited by Zanda Hilger, LPC
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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