One of the struggles many caregivers deal with on a daily basis is the battle with depression, which can be caused and/or triggered by a series of factors, including isolation, loneliness, exhaustion and the seasons. Although it can feel crippling and hopeless when in the throes of depression, seeking/finding help should be a caregiver’s main priority for your own health, as well as the person you care for.
There are multiple actions you can take to help combat caregiver depression. They include:
- Getting Help. Don’t be afraid to lean on your support network when times get tough. Try and involve your friends and family in planning and providing care, which will help with feelings of isolation and exhaustion. Utilize respite services, if possible, and find local caregiver support groups. Don’t wait for your depression to become a major problem before taking action.
- Maintain Relationships. It’s important to make sure your role as caregiver doesn’t dominate your life to the detriment of other personal relationships. Make an effort to keep up with friends, family and loved ones despite your caregiver responsibilities; it will make both you and your loved ones happier in the long run.
- Keep A Journal. Journals are great for venting emotions—especially negative feelings like anger, fear and pain. Write in your journal daily, particularly on bad days, and it will help elevate your mood.
- Schedule “Me” Time. It’s easy to deny yourself downtime when you’re busy caring for others, but it’s also important to allow time for yourself to relax and have fun. Don’t stop doing the things you enjoy doing—whether it’s movies, shopping, sports, or socializing.
- Stay Active. Be sure to take care of your body, getting plenty of exercise, sleep and healthy meals. Walking three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes has been linked to reducing or alleviating symptoms of depression.
- Practice Mind-Body Techniques. Another means of reducing the symptoms of depression is to employ various mind-body techniques. For example, meditation can greatly help in reducing stress and depression. Other methods include yoga, massage, acupuncture, prayer, deep-breathing, guided imagery and enjoying music and art.
- Seek Natural Remedies. In addition or as an alternative to prescribed medication, there are multiple natural/herbal supplements that may aid with depression. Over-the-counter remedies purported to have a positive effect include St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and other supplements like SAMe and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Keep It Light. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can cause or exacerbate depression, particularly during the winter or for caregivers who spend most of their time indoors. One promising treatment for this condition is light therapy, which uses specially designed bright fluorescent lights, which is believed to work by altering the levels of certain beneficial brain chemicals, specifically melatonin.
- Remain Upbeat. Focus on the positive aspects of your role as caregiver, such as giving back and the difference you are making in your loved one’s life, as well as the potential spiritual benefits. Staying centered on these factors helps to avoid depression.
Remember, depression is an illness that must be fought like any other, and it needn’t be fought alone. Reach out for help and utilize tools like those listed above. You may not feel 100% better overnight, but stick with it and gradually your mood will take a positive turn.