Tips for Coping if You Have Anxiety as a Caregiver

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Caregivers will experience anxiety. It simply goes with the territory. How to cope with that anxiety is the true challenge because if we don’t cope well we, too, may become ill. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes this in the article Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Caregiving, which concludes that “caregiving is a major public health issue.” Knowing how caregiving can affect your long-term health should help you understand that your anxiety isn’t something to take lightly.

The suggestions provided here help some caregivers, and one or more may help you. These are tried and true approaches to easing anxiety, and the choice of whether or not to participate is yours, so have at it with only your preferences in mind.

  • Perfection. Ditch it. There is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. If you can absorb this thinking into your very soul, you may be able to leave a lot of your anxiety behind. No one can take care of another human being in a perfect manner at all times. Repeat this truth as often as needed.

  • Meditation. The NIH considers meditation to be safe and effective for many people. While the NIH, as well as many articles and websites, tends to look at classic forms of meditation, you needn’t pose on a cushion and repeat a mantra in order to meditate. You may prefer a walk or a run to experience nature. For some people, that is meditation. You can sit and gaze at a body of water if that is your idea of meditation. The idea is to find a form that works to clear your head and relax your body. Be creative. Experiment. There is no right or wrong way to meditate.

  • Spirituality. Similar to meditation, but not necessarily the same, is your spirituality. Tap into the type of spirituality that is right for you. I pray. I turn over my anxiety-producing problems to my God in my own way. I may not receive a direct answer to the cause of my anxiety, but I feel that I am no longer alone. Others may find that going to a worship service, communing with nature, or listening to inspiring music is the best way to tap into their spirituality. However you do it, connecting to your spiritual center can soothe your soul.

  • Focus. Emphasize what you can control. Life is all about variables, and sometimes it can seem as though we have no control over anything. That is rarely true. Figure out what you do have control over and make that your focus. For instance, you can’t control the fact that your wife is having an extreme arthritic flare, but you can control your reaction to it. Take a deep breath. Think about what your wife needs. Remember that you can’t cure her, but you can do things that will help her feel better. What are those things? Offer to do what you can, and you will feel more in control, thus less anxious.

  • Gratitude. To me, finding gratitude in life – especially at the most difficult times – is the answer to much of my anxiety. You might find your anxiety climbing as you look at family medical bills, but if you note on a piece of paper that your son, who has major depression, got out of bed today on his own, you’ll have started your list. You have a roof over your head, albeit a mortgaged one. You have food to eat. You have the love of your family. Don’t try to be perfect at this. Just note what you are grateful for and look at the list often. The list will grow if you let it, and re-reading it at intervals may help lower your anxiety level.

  • Journal. Many caregivers inwardly shriek at the thought of journaling because it sounds like one more demand on their time. However, journaling can accomplish several things at once. Journaling can include your gratitude list. It can help you find focus as you write about your feeling of life being out of control. Additionally, journaling can provide a ready-to-go record of your loved one’s days as well as your own, so if you are asked by the doctor or the insurance company for information, you will have a guide for gathering that information. Knowing this may even help lower your anxiety.

  • Hobbies. The word “hobby” seems quaint in these days where busyness seems to be a badge of honor. However, hobbies are a time-honored way of having “me time” or practicing self-care. It’s only a matter of semantics. Regardless of the term used, taking time to do something that you love is paramount to good health in general, and can often ease anxiety.

  • Exercise. I’ve done my own brand of yoga for decades. I should get expert advice but I don’t. Yet, what I do works for me. Many people prefer Tai Chi, which is another ancient form of exercise that is well known for relieving stress and anxiety. Others run marathons, lift weights, or just take long walks. While we should all include many types of exercise in our routines, if anxiety is an issue, we may not benefit from more shoulds.  Just do what works for you.

The above tips can help, but anxiety is not just uncomfortable, it can be serious. You may need therapy or medication. Many caregivers seek professional help for the anxiety that caregiving often brings. This self-care benefits them as well as their care receiver.

See more helpful articles:

What Is Really in Your Control?

7 Suggestions for Caregivers' Self Care

6 Ways to Stop Stressing about Disease