With the holidays coming up, we are bombarded by the media on how to have the perfect holiday. While shopping or watching TV, we are surrounded by excessive stimuli telling us what to cook, what to buy and how to have the most perfect holiday. If we don’t perform with joy we may feel flawed. For most individuals, the holidays can prove to be stressful, even if it is good stress which keeps us moving. If the obligation of caregiving is added to an already busy life, overwhelming negative stress can lead to caregiver blues and, in some cases, major depression.
November is National Caregiver Awareness Month and we want to recognize who might be in caregiver roles and offer support. Often caregivers are thought to be an older person who cares for a spouse or even older parent. However, the typical “caregiver” today is female, around age 49, and cares for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend. The average caregiver works outside the home up to 40 hours per week and provides an average of 20- 36 hours of unpaid care to their family members in addition to managing their own household. A big part of the stressor can be an economic strain forcing more caregivers to use their own funds to supplement the care recipient and being less likely to receive a promotion or financial gain due to their personal commitments to caregiving.
The role of a caregiver also is associated with an increase in physical illness, depression, and anxiety:
- The stress of family caregiving has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after caregiving ends, increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness
- 72 % of caregivers report not seeking care from their own providers, and 63% report having poor eating habits with 58% reporting worse exercise habits than before caregiving started.
- 20 % of employed female caregivers over 50 years of age report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of non-caregiving peers.
- 40-70% report clinically significant symptoms of depression with many meeting diagnostic criteria for depression.
- 1 in 5 female caregivers ages 18-39 reported that stress was nearly always present in their lives. This negatively impacted their careers, personal relationships and social lives due to their reduced ability to participate, leading to more social isolation, depression and anxiety. The incidence of symptoms is not limited to depression but also associated with a higher level of hostility, a greater decline in happiness, less personal mastery, and less self-acceptance leading to shame and guilt.
- Holiday blues in addition to caregiving can bring on depression severe enough that there is an increase in suicide rates around the holiday time.
Because of these statistics, it's so important for caregivers to take care of themselves and follow Dr. Bitner's SEEDS: Water, Sleep, Nutrition, Vitamins, Exercise, Fiber, and Metered breathing and Gratitude.
- Focus on being realistic. Start with a list and make a point to do half.
- Take a shortcut. Simplify by using store-bought foods.
- Find healthy soothing techniques that don’t involve alcohol, drugs or smoking.
- Take 10 minutes per day to practice gratitude or “Take Five” which simply means noticing something you can smell, taste, feel, see hear.
- Use breathing exercises- use them proactively like medication not just when you are stressed.
- Seek support.
- Take something from your bucket list and do it.
- Find a hidden talent.
- Allow yourself to feel the pain- lean in, don’t sweep feeling under the rug. The pain is real. It is natural and human and okay to feel loss and grief. You have the right to all your feelings.
If you are a caregiver or not, and you are struggling with depressive symptoms which daily impact your quality of life and especially if you have had thoughts that you would be better off dead, that others would be better off if you were not present, or thoughts of wanting to or how you would hurt yourself, please know the situation and your feelings are temporary, and please call for help.
To set up an appointment with the Midlife, Menopause, and Sexual Health Team at Spectrum Health, call (616)-267-8520. Offices are located on the west side of Grand Rapids at 3800 Lake Michigan Drive North West, Suite A, and on the east side at the Integrated Care Campus on East Beltline.
The article was written and provided by LuAnn Arnson, Licensed Master Social Worker at Midlife, Menopause and Sexual Health.