“What if his treatment doesn’t work?” “What if she never gets better?” “What would my future look like if the person I am caring for is no longer here?“
Caregiving, especially when responsibilities or uncertainties persist over time, can be fraught with concerns. For someone taking care of an elderly or sick loved one, the list of worries is often extensive. Caregivers worry about the health and well-being of their loved one while simultaneously worrying about demands on their time, resources and relationships. They worry about managing finances or about their own health and quality of life. For so many reasons, worry is inherent in caregiving.
When worries persist to the point that they lead to preoccupation and inattention during the day and sleeplessness at night, it is time to intervene.
Research focused on caregiver-specific worry backs this up; caregiver distress is indeed widespread, and the worry can have physical and emotional consequences. Effects on caregivers’ emotional health can include lost sleep, reduced participation in leisure activities, social isolation, anxiety, and depression.
That said, caregivers can reduce the negative effects of worrying.
Researchers have developed successful and practical support programs for caregivers to reduce their worries. One intervention for dementia caregivers, that included group support, education, problem-solving, and a stress management program, found significant decreases in perceived stress, depression, subjective caregiver burden, anxiety, and anger or hostility as well as improvements in general health, vitality, and social function.
Many caregivers benefit from outside support. It’s not easy to ask for help, but when worries persist to the point that they lead to preoccupation and inattention during the day and sleeplessness at night, it is time to intervene. Worry can be brought down to more manageable levels. Here are some research-tested ideas about how to manage caregiver worry:
- Acknowledge your worry. Acceptance is a key component in overcoming anxieties. This may seem counterintuitive, but if you acknowledge your emotions, you are allowing yourself to deal with the worry and to recognize that you have the power to be in control over your thoughts.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity is great for keeping anxiety levels at bay and provides a natural outlet for stress and anxiety
- Allow time for daily relaxation. Everyone needs time each day for moments of calm or time to recharge. Taking this time will help buffer the effects of anxiety.
- Prioritize time for sleep. It can be compelling to put sleep on hold when focusing on the to-do list, your loved one’s needs, household matters, work, or even other restorative self-care or relaxation activities. This is understandable. But getting enough rest is one of the most fundamental and overlooked aspects of maintaining overall emotional and physical health and well-being.
- Plan ahead. When you feel more prepared for a stressful situation, you will feel better able to approach the situation which can then help to reduce anxiety.
- Reach out for support. Whether it be through your friends and family, others providing care for loved ones, or professionals, it’s important to not go through this experience alone. Sharing that you are feeling overwhelmed or worried can help to lighten your load, emotionally. It will be an act of self-care on your part if you can carve out time to attend a caregiver support group or schedule a session with a therapist.