Surviving Depression and Anxiety as a Caregiver

19 Nov

By Andrea M. Risi, LPC

Caregivers and Depression and AnxietyAre you caring for a family member who has a chronic illness?

Are you perhaps even part of the so-called “Sandwich Generation”—taking care of your children and your aging parents?

Be honest: are you struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues because of your caregiver role?

Caregiving can take a toll on the caregiver because of the demands a chronic illness can create. Regardless of whom you’re caring for, there’s no doubt you feel the pressure of these demands. Chronic illness is especially challenging because of daily stresses such as medication management, doctor appointments, therapies, etc., not to mention the unpredictability of symptoms. These burdens can cause caregivers to feel anxious, depressed, resentful, or even angry, all of which are normal reactions.

Caregiving can be time consuming, physically challenging, and emotionally draining. Giving of one’s time and energy can be exhausting, and many caregivers find themselves experiencing burnout. Signs of burnout, much like signs of depression, can include irritability, changes in sleep patterns, sadness or hopelessness, weight gain or loss, and withdrawal from others.

Research shows that 40% to 70% of caregivers experience anxiety and/or depression. Let’s hit that home: 10% to 12% of people in the United States report depression at any given time, so it’s significant that nearly half of caregivers report depression or anxiety. It shows just how much of a toll caregiving can take.

Is this your experience as a caregiver? How do you combat depression, anxiety, and other issues? Here are six caregiver “survival” tips:

  1. Take care of yourself first: You can’t help anyone if you’re sick, tired, or drained. You can’t pour from an empty cup! Taking time to care for yourself is of the utmost importance.
  2. Ask for help: Caregiving does not have to be just your responsibility. In fact, the more you do, the more others expect you to do. Getting support to share the responsibilities can help you avoid caregiver burnout.
  3. Be realistic: The more you know about the diagnosis, treatments, and prognosis, the more empowered you will feel. Ask your doctor questions and search the web on reputable medical websites.
  4. Access respite care: Respite care is a service that allows caretakers to have a break. The break can be from a few hours to a few days. You can also ask another family member or a friend to give you some time off.
  5. Find emotional support: Having someone to share your feelings with can help ease the burden of caregiving. You don’t have to feel alone and helpless. Find a trusted and compassionate person who allows you to talk without giving advice or judging the situation.
  6. Seek therapy: If you’re still struggling, find a therapist who is knowledgeable about chronic illness. Working with a therapist can help you learn to better cope with caregiver challenges.

There is no doubt caregiving for a family member with chronic illness can have adverse effects on the caregiver, but there are ways to combat issues such as anxiety and depression. Most importantly, caring for yourself will allow you to have the resources to continue caregiving.


Continuing Education Courses on the Topic of Caregivers

The emotional stress of caring for persons who are aging, chronically ill or disabled can be debilitating for family members as well as professional caregivers. This course addresses caregiver depression and grief and provides a three-step process that can help develop an attitude of creative indifference toward the people, situations and events that cause emotional stress. It offers suggestions for dealing with preparatory grief, an experience shared by families and professionals as they cope with the stress of caring for someone who will never get well. In the process, it also explains the differences between reactionary depression and clinical depression. By gaining insights into the process of losing someone over an extended period of time, the mental health professional will be in a better position to understand the caregiver’s experience with depression and grief and provide both empathy and strategies for implementing a self-care plan. This course includes downloadable worksheets that you can use (on a limited basis) in your clinical practice. The course video is split into 3 segments for your convenience.


This course is presented in two parts. Part 1 offers strategies for managing the everyday challenges of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, a difficult task that can quickly become overwhelming. Research has shown that caregivers themselves often are at increased risk for depression and illness. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. Many caregivers have found it helpful to use the strategies described in this course for dealing with difficult behaviors and stressful situations.Part 2 includes tips on acute hospitalization, which presents a new environment filled with strange sights, odors and sounds, changes in daily routines, along with new medications and tests. This section is intended to help professionals and family members meet the needs of hospitalized Alzheimer’s patients by offering facts about Alzheimer’s disease, communication tips, personal care techniques, and suggestions for working with behaviors and environmental factors in both the ER and in the hospital room.


The emotional stress of caring for persons who are aging, chronically ill or disabled can be debilitating for family members as well as professional caregivers. This course addresses caregiver anger and guilt, and provides a three-step process that helps caregivers develop an attitude of what is described as “creative indifference” toward the people, situations and events that cause them the greatest amount of emotional stress. By gaining insights into how degenerative and progressive diseases affect the life of the caregiver, the mental health professional will be in a better position to empathize with the caregiver’s situation and provide strategies that will help them manage the stress of caring for someone whose situation will never improve. The significance of honoring and supporting caregivers’ feelings and helping them understand the importance of self-care can not only improve their physical and emotional well-being, but can also have a huge impact on the quality of care they are able to provide to their care receiver. This course includes downloadable worksheets that you can use in your clinical practice.


Caregiver Help: Sex and Dementia explores how Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases impact the brain in ways that can cause some surprising, challenging and inappropriate behaviors. Some people with dementia may develop a heightened interest in sex – even to the point of aggression; experience a waning or complete loss of interest in sex; become addicted to pornography; lose the ability to understand what kind of behavior is acceptable; have a different perception of place and time and a different interpretation of reality from their caregivers; get agitated and upset when their caregivers don’t communicate with them effectively; and behave in ways that are confusing and upsetting to family members and professional healthcare workers. Even so, the patient deserves to be treated with respect and every effort should be made to maintain their dignity. The course video is split into 2 parts for your convenience.

Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists; the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590);  the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).


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