Anxiety in Caregivers

Health Professional

Anxiety is often automatically linked with stress. I suppose that is because those of us who have been, or are caregivers, know what a difficult job it can be at times. Although anxiety is different to stress, the features can overlap and the so too the response to self-help or other therapy strategies.

Anxiety, when we do recognise it, is an emotion we feel that gives us a sense of apprehension. It occurs when we are physically or emotionally threatened. We can feel irritable, impatient, constantly on edge. We have difficulty concentrating, become restless and are often easily distracted. The feelings impact on the way we behave and will change the way we provide care to our loved ones or patients.

Recognising our anxiety means we can do things that help reduce it. Women are often better than men at recognising anxiety. Men will often dismiss their emotional symptoms but find it easier to relate to physical symptoms that may be anxiety based. Some of the most common physical symptoms include dizziness, drowsiness and tiredness, insomnia, heart palpitations, muscle aches and muscle tension, nausea, diarrhoea and headaches.

These are often the symptoms of stress too. A stressful day can be satisfying because you have dealt well with situations that have occurred in your role as a caregiver. However if we become regularly or constantly anxious it becomes a health issue for you and makes it difficult to be a good caregiver. Your body pushes out adrenaline and various stress hormones and makes your heart work faster. This is excellent for situations in the short term stress but less good over long periods of time.

The role of long-term caregiver is stressful, often because of the social isolation, repetitive demands and sleep disruptions that come with the role. Despite all this, you may not feel anxious and this is one way of demonstrating the differences between anxiety and stress.

In many ways what sometimes works for anxiety tends to work for stress, although anxiety is often more pervasive. Taking time out to relax, to exercise, or to break the cycle of events tends to have beneficial effects. If the caregiver feels the benefits this is almost inevitably transferred in some way to the care they give others. Anything that helps to reduce anxiety or stress helps to prevent future mental or physical health problems. Simply ignoring the symptoms is a crisis waiting to happen.

A trip to your doctor may be needed if symptoms of anxiety persist. There are a number of disorders related to anxiety and an accurate diagnosis will make a difference to treatment they offer you.

Medications used to Treat AnxietyThere are many drugs that are now available that can help reduce anxiety. Benzodiazepine s such as Ativan (lorazepam) and valium (diazepam)   are commonly prescribed. These types of drugs are often used short term.

Antidepressants to treat Anxiety

SRRIs. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that increase the level of a chemical called serotonin in the brain. Drugs include sertraline, fluoxetine, citalopram or paroxetine all of which can be taken on a long-term basis.

SNRIs. Selective serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors such as Venlafaxine (Effexor).

More on Antidepressants used to treat anxiety.

Anxiolytics such as buspirone

that can help ease the psychological symptoms of anxiety.