By Mary Damiano
While caregivers are defined as the people taking care of those needing help, they sometimes overlook the fact that caregiving responsibilities can take a toll on their own health.
In addition to physical ailments, caregivers are at risk for depression. Depression can strike anyone, at any age. Caregivers need to be especially aware of depression because of the great load they carry. Many caregivers work at a full-time job and take care of a family in addition to their caregiving responsibilities. They often sacrifice their own health, well-being and social life in order to do everything that needs to be done.
One common denominator among caregivers is the desire and the belief that they must do everything themselves. Often, caregivers do not ask for help, opting instead to inadvertently play the part of the martyr. This leads the caregiver to become overwhelmed and an overwhelmed person is fertile ground for depression to dig in and take root.
The great strain caregivers face on a daily basis can lead to depression. One way to stop depression before it strikes is to be aware of the warning signs. According to the Administration on Aging, here are some red flags that depression might be creeping in:
- Sad, discouraged mood
- Persistent pessimism about the present, future and the past
- Loss of interest in work, hobbies, social life and sex
- Difficulty in making decisions
- Lack of energy and feeling slowed down
- Restlessness and irritability
- Loss of appetite and loss of weight
- Disturbed sleep, especially early morning waking
- Depressive, gloomy or desolate dreams
- Suicidal thoughts
If you feel yourself exhibiting these behaviors, do not discount them. They should be taken as seriously as you might treat a fever that won’t go away or a persistent cough.
Below are some expert tips on what caregivers in particular can do to stop depression before it gets out of control:
- Talk regularly with family, friends, or mental health professionals— it is very important that you do not isolate yourself. Join a local support group, or find one online. Share your feelings so they don’t build up and escalate into problems.
- Set limits— this can be hard for caregivers, because they are used to taking on everything that needs to be done. It’s okay to say no to taking on more than you can handle.
- Eat nutritiously, exercise regularly and get enough sleep— this can be difficult because of the irregular schedules caregivers must keep. But think of it this way: your body and mind are machines, and they must be properly maintained in order to function at their best. Nutritious food, exercise and sleep are the things that fuel these machines. Just as you would not let your car run out of gas, don’t let your body run out of its fuel.
- Let go of unrealistic expectations— caregivers often have unrealistic expectations of themselves, and therefore push themselves to meet these goals. Accept the fact that you can’t do everything. Ask for and accept help, from friends, family and local agencies. Whatever you do, don’t be a martyr.
- Keep a sense of humor— we all know that laughter is the best medicine, so go ahead and take a few spoonfuls daily. Relax with a funny movie or TV show. Put on a comedy tape to listen to while you do your chores. Find the humor in everyday things.