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Caring for Your Own Mental Health as a Long-Term Caregiver for a Loved One

Caring for Your Own Mental Health as a Long-Term Caregiver for a Loved One

A caregiver is someone directly responsible for caring for those who can no longer care for themselves, whether it be for mental health or physical reasons. With the cost of healthcare being high and resources being spread thin, many people become the sole caregiver to those that they love. This means financially, physically, and emotionally supporting others, which can take a toll on someone’s mental health. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 22.3% of adults have provided care or assistance to a loved one within the last 30 days. With nearly a quarter of our population caring for others, it’s no wonder why there is a problem with caregiver burnout.

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout is the result of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. When people care for others, they sacrifice their time, money, energy, and emotional needs. This can deal a blow to a caregiver’s mental health and can change their attitude entirely about the person they are caring for. 

The main causes of caregiver burnout are:

Loss of Control

A caregiver may not have everything they need to care for a loved one. This can include a lack of money, skills, or resources needed for long-term care. It can cause someone to sacrifice many parts of their life to make up the difference, and that includes their mental health.

The Demands of Caregiving

Caring for someone demands a lot from someone. It’s common for family members to designate one person as a sole caregiver, believing that they have it “handled.” This puts an enormous amount of expectations on the caregiver, who may believe it to be their sole responsibility. Without help, a singular person will eventually buckle under the weight of responsibility. 

Changing Relationships

When someone becomes a caregiver, it can overshadow their previous role in the relationship. Being a spouse, sibling, parent, child, partner, or friend becomes swallowed up in the role of a caregiver. This causes these previous relationships to struggle and cause mental anguish in both the person needing care and the one giving it.

Unrealistic Optimism

When someone has a progressive disease, it means that it will get worse over time, despite a person’s involvement in treatment. Sometimes, a caregiver may feel as though they are making a direct positive effect on the person they are caring for. When they get worse, it can cause a caregiver to feel frustrated, feeling as if they are not working hard enough to help. They may even blame themselves for the progression of the disease or ailment, causing mental distress.

Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

When someone is burned out, they struggle with many negative symptoms, and this can sometimes cause a mental health disorder or illness. Many people may begin to struggle with depression or anxiety

The most common symptoms of caregiver burnout are:

  • Depressive symptoms, such as feelings of hopelessness, dread, and sadness
  • Changes in eating habits, including undereating or overeating and unplanned weight loss or gain
  • Irritability, frustration, and loss of temper
  • Lack of sleep or oversleeping
  • Feelings of intense guilt when doing something besides caregiving
  • Withdrawing from both loved ones and previously enjoyed activities 
  • Persistent feelings of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion
  • Getting sick often due to personal neglect, stress, or a symptom of anxiety or depression
  • Feelings of self-harm or harming the person you are caring for

Mental Health Tips for a Healthy Mind

Thankfully, much of caregiver burnout can be prevented as long as someone takes precautions to protect their mental health. It’s important to take the time to care for yourself. If you don’t, your physical and mental health may decline. 

Here are some tips for any caregiver to help protect their mental health:

Take Care of Your Physical Health

Be sure to eat regular healthy meals, exercise, and get restful sleep. Our mental health is influenced by our physical health, so staying physically healthy can keep you mentally healthy as well.

Set up a Support Network

Being in contact with others is important for your mental health. Make time to speak to friends and loved ones who can offer you support when you need it. Sometimes just knowing that someone cares about you can make a difference. There are even support groups for caregivers that you can join to give you more support.

Be Realistic About Your Limits

A person only has so much to give before there is nothing left. Learn how to set healthy boundaries and let go of unrealistic high expectations for yourself. 

Accept Your Feelings

Feeling sad, frustrated, or angry is a normal part of being human. You are not a bad person for having these feelings. Learn to acknowledge them and then move on.

Relax and De-stress

Taking time to rest your mind is an important part of staying healthy. It’s never selfish to take time to care for your mental needs.

Make Use of Professional Help

There are several resources out there that exist to help caregivers. There are respite care services that can be used to give you a break. You can also make use of mental healthcare services. They can not only help you recover from burnout, but they can help teach you healthy coping skills to protect your mental health.

Finding Help for Your Mental Health

Speaking to a mental health professional is the best thing you can do for your mental health, especially as a caregiver. A professional can teach you important skills to maintain and protect your mental health. Learning healthy coping skills, setting boundaries, and regulating your emotions are all important as a caregiver. 

It’s okay to acknowledge when you need help as well. Just because someone else is struggling doesn’t mean that you can’t too. If you are struggling with your mental health, call your local mental healthcare facility right away. Everyone deserves quality care for their mental health, and that includes yourself.

It’s a noble deed to want to care for those that need help. However, it’s important to be aware of your mental health and know when to ask for help when you need it. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we offer treatment programs to help caregivers care for themselves as well as others. People without a support network or mental health education are more susceptible to burnout. By learning how to cope with the challenges of caregiving, you prevent pain to both yourself and the ones you care for. If you or someone you love needs care for their mental health, call (949) 647-4090 today to speak with one of our mental healthcare professionals.

LMFT, Program Director at Acera Health | Edited & Medically Reviewed

Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.

Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.


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