What is depression?
Depression is a serious mental health condition that, for many, feels like a dark shadow that follows them around, weighing them down. When it strikes, it casts a heavy veil over thoughts, emotions, and actions with relentless determination. It’s not just a fleeting moment of sadness or a passing mood; it’s an all-consuming feeling of despair that grips on tightly, refusing to let go.
As days blur into weeks and months, its presence looms large and taints every facet of life. Simple tasks become Herculean feats, joy evaporates, and purpose dissipates into thin air.
Depression presents differently in individuals; some exhibit constant sadness. They may cry more easily and find difficulty in smiling. The pleasure they once found in hobbies and social events may dissipate. In contrast, others may appear irritable or withdrawn. They could be quicker to anger or find the smallest of things more irritating than they once would have. Others retreat into solitude. They may feel neither anger, sadness, nor joy but numb instead. In the most severe cases, suicidal thoughts may present themselves.
Recognising the signs of depression, however faint, is the first step towards reclaiming the light that depression seeks to extinguish.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an entirely human and natural response to perceived threats.
While it has many negative connotations, anxiety is a crucial human emotion that plays a massive role in keeping us safe. To lose it altogether would be disastrous. However, for many people, especially carers, anxiety becomes more than a normal emotion. It becomes a serious disorder that genuinely impacts their quality of life.
These disorders lead to excessive worry, fear, and nervousness, altering emotional processing and behaviour, often accompanied by physical symptoms.
Anxiety varies from person to person, with symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, intrusive thoughts, and insomnia. Restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and constant unease are common, alongside physical signs such as headaches and muscle tension.
For carers, these symptoms might feel acutely heightened due to the added pressure and responsibility of caring for someone else.
Why are carers at risk of experiencing depression and anxiety?
Caring for someone, whether a loved one or a friend, is a profoundly compassionate act burdened with physical and emotional challenges. The toll it takes on carers is profound, often plunging them into a whirlpool of stress, loneliness, and anxiety. Carers must manage stress appropriately to reduce the risk of burnout and other conditions.
First and foremost, the isolation that often accompanies the caregiving role casts a heavy cloud. The persistent dedication can strip away opportunities for social connection, often leaving carers feeling alone. This isolation becomes fertile ground for anxiety and depression to take root and flourish.
Moreover, the burden of responsibility weighs heavily on carers’ shoulders. Navigating the complex needs of another, especially when they are unwell or incapacitated, takes a tremendous toll. The ceaseless worry and emotional turmoil chip away at their resilience, paving the path towards anxiety disorders and depression.
There is also a tendency for carers to prioritise the needs of their loved ones above their own. This selflessness often comes at a steep cost – compromised physical health, exhaustion, and a shortage of time for self-nurturing activities essential for mental well-being. The guilt that accompanies any attempt at self-care only serves to deepen their emotional distress.
Adding fuel to the fire is the spectre of financial strain. Many carers are forced to reduce their work hours or forsake employment altogether to fulfil their caregiving duties, plunging them into a financial predicament. This instability becomes a catalyst for anxiety and depression.
Strategies to help carers manage their mental well-being
Carers must acknowledge these risks and take proactive measures to safeguard their mental health.
Seeking professional help, nurturing a robust support network, and carving out moments for self-care are all vital strategies in mitigating and managing depression and anxiety.
Embracing regular physical activity emerges as a great way to find relief. Simple exercises like a brisk walk or a brief yoga session can help diminish some of the anxiety’s grip, reducing both the mental and physical symptoms it brings. Yoga and Pilates are great ways to improve breathing and slow a racing heart.
Self-care is one of the most important things you can implement into your daily routine. Whether it entails reading a book, relaxing in a soothing bath, or heading out on a brisk stroll around the block, these small pauses offer precious opportunities for rejuvenation.
Practising mindfulness and meditation can help reduce feelings of unease and worry. Even a few minutes of mindfulness daily can benefit your mental well-being. An array of apps and online platforms are available to support and guide caregivers through these practices.
Seeking solace in the community becomes a cornerstone of resilience. Connecting with fellow caregivers through local gatherings or online support groups can help relieve anxiety through shared understanding and communal strength.
When caring for others, it’s easy to forget about yourself, but carers must focus on their own health as well. Nourishing the body with a balanced diet, embracing regular exercise, and holding a consistent sleep schedule is critical when it comes to fighting off the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Seeking professional support should never be underestimated or forgotten. Therapists and counsellors specialising in caregiver stress offer invaluable tools and insights to help relieve not only the symptoms of anxiety but the root cause as well.
Remember, it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Carers shoulder a heavy load but don’t have to bear it alone.
PMAC is a UK-based organisation of mental health and wellbeing trainers providing workplace training to businesses in the UK, helping to create a healthier and more productive working environment.