Taking Care of the Caregiver

By Shelley Galasso Bonanno, MA, LLP

Whether you are caring for an aging parent, a spouse with a chronic illness, or a disabled family member, the emotional and psychological toll of caregiving can be immense. Caregivers face a unique set of psychological challenges and it’s essential to recognize these challenges and seek help and support as needed.

Caregivers frequently experience high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. The constant worry about their loved one’s well-being, coupled with the demands of caregiving, can lead to chronic stress and its associated mental and physical health problems. The emotional strain of caregiving can contribute to feelings of sadness and depression. The caregiver may feel grief as they mourn the loss of their loved one’s former abilities and the changes in their relationship. Feelings of guilt and resentment are not uncommon. Caregivers often feel socially isolated as they prioritize their caregiving duties over social interactions. This isolation can lead to loneliness and further exacerbate emotional distress. In fact, many caregivers report feeling as though their own identity becomes lost by their caregiving duties. This loss of self can lead to a sense of emptiness and frustration. While these feelings are normal, they can be difficult to navigate and at times, may feel overwhelming.

While the psychological effects of caregiving can be overwhelming, there are strategies to help caregivers navigate these challenges:

Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or support groups. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others who understand can provide validation and emotional relief. Support groups can offer the opportunity to know that you are not alone. They can often provide valuable input as to how others manage caregiving responsibilities.

Self-Care: While self-care often falls to the wayside, prioritizing self-care to preserve your mental and emotional well-being is essential. Make time for activities you enjoy, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and consider counseling or therapy. The value of self-care cannot be emphasized enough. Set Realistic Expectations: While it can be tempting to do it all yourself, understand that you are one person and cannot do everything alone. Setting realistic expectations for yourself and seeking assistance when needed is crucial.

Respite Care: Utilize respite care services to take breaks and recharge. Respite care allows you to step away temporarily while ensuring your loved one receives the care they need, even if only for a few hours at a time.

Professional Help: If you find yourself struggling with severe depression or anxiety, seek help from your primary care physician and/or a licensed mental health professional. Therapy and medication can be effective in managing these conditions. Setting aside time to talk with an unbiased professional can not only provide support, but help you sort through your feelings and develop coping skills for managing your feelings. The psychological effects of being a caregiver are profound, underestimated and different for everyone. Unless you have been a caregiver, it can be difficult to understand the unique set of emotional challenges a caregiver may experience as they provide support and care for their loved ones. It’s essential to recognize these challenges and seek help and support when needed. By prioritizing mental health and well-being, caregivers can continue to provide the best possible care to their loved ones while preserving their own quality of life and mental wellness.

Shelley BonannoA lifelong resident of Macomb County, Shelley Galasso Bonanno is a practicing limited licensed psychologist who earned her master’s degree from Wayne State University in 1987. She has a breadth of experience in working with adults, children, families, and couples. In addition to working in private practice, Ms. Bonanno performs consultative services for State and forensic agencies. She performs custody and parenting time evaluations and is a court approved mediator. Her writings have appeared in various online and print publications. An advocate for mental health, you can follow Ms. Bonanno on Twitter @shelleybonanno.

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