If caregiving has you feeling overwhelmed or stressed to the point you think you may actually be depressed, you’re not alone.
Over 53 million adults in the United States are caregivers. Of that group, 21% of caregivers report feeling alone, compounded by physical, emotional and financial strain, according to a 2020 Caregiving in the U.S. study.
A study published in The Gerontologist, comparing 576 family caregivers to nearly 3,000 non-caregivers during COVID, found significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression and disturbed sleep among the caregivers (average age, 59), most of whom were caring for people over 65.
High-Stress Caregiving = Higher Depression Rates
For caregivers caring for someone with dementia or a long-term illness, rates of depression are even higher.
Researchers found that a person who provides care for someone with dementia is twice as likely to suffer from depression as a person providing care for someone without dementia, according the Family Caregiver Alliance.
There are 8.4 million caregivers in the U.S. caring for someone living with a mental health condition. These caregivers suffer depression at higher rates due to the added challenges and stress of this demanding caregiving role.
In a National Alliance for Caregiving study of caregivers of adults with mental illness, half of these caregivers reported feelings of loneliness and helplessness. Mental health caregivers reported higher levels of stress and burden, with 63% saying that because of caregiving, they felt there was not enough time to tend to themselves.
How to Add Exercise to Your Caregiving Routine
If you’re experiencing the physical and/or emotional signs of caregiver stress or depression – such as feeling irritable or experiencing headaches – you may find exercise beneficial as a management technique. Research conducted by Harvard Medical School found that exercise may work as well as antidepressant medications in easing symptoms of depression.
Refresh your body and spirit with a little exercise during the coming weeks and see if it lifts your mood. To squeeze exercise into an already-busy caregiving schedule, try these approaches.
- Pick an activity before you try finding time for it
Many experts advise making fitness a priority by scheduling it on your calendar to ensure you honor your commitment. But it’s easy to skip the workout if you hate exercising. To solve this problem, try choosing a fitness activity before you commit to exercising regularly. It’s easy to find time for doing something fun.
- Try different types of fitness activities to find the right one
If you find it boring to walk every day, try signing up for a class. If the idea of exercising with a group of other people puts you off, try popping a fitness DVD or finding an exercise routine on YouTube or free fitness app like, FitOn. Keep trying out different types of exercise until you find something that excites you.
- Reach back into childhood for fun ideas
What activities did you enjoy as a kid? Shooting baskets? Nature walks? Dance class? Treat yourself like a kid again by taking up an activity you haven’t done for a long time. You may find it’s just as fun today as you remember.
- Don’t make things complicated
Start with 10 minutes a day of physical activity. It can be something as simple as dancing around the living room to your favorite music – anything to get your blood pumping!
- Create a respite plan to ensure you have time for exercise
If your loved one can’t be left alone for even half an hour, you probably need some caregiving help, or respite. Enlist the aid of other family members, friends, a neighbor or a paid caregiver to give you some breathing room. You will be a better caregiver if you keep yourself in good health.
If you are experiencing signs of depression that don’t seem to lift, it might be time to consider talking with a healthcare professional to help you evaluate your situation.
Remember, it is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a family caregiver. Both you and your aging loved one will be better off when you prioritize your own physical and emotional care.