By Marlo Sollitto
Caregivers' risk for experiencing depression is 30 times greater than that of non-caregivers, particularly among those caring for Alzheimer's and dementia patients, according to the National Institutes on Health.
In an effort to provide the best possible care for a family member or friend, caregivers often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs and the emotional and physical experiences involved with providing care can strain even the most capable person. The resulting feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation, exhaustion—and then guilt for having these feelings—can exact a heavy toll. But don't accept that depression is par for course as part of caregiving. It doesn't have to be that way!
Here are some ways to help combat depression.
1. Talk Back to the Negative Thoughts
Therapeutic discipline called Cognitive Behavior Therapy, states that our thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations and events. We can change the way we think to feel and act better even if the situation does not change. Positive thinking can replace the negative thinking that is part of depression. "Talking back to negative thoughts" such as "I'm worthless" with positive thoughts that challenge the notion "I'm not worthless, I care for a family and I am a good person" restructures negative thought patterns, so you can interpret your environment in a less biased way.
2. Participate in Life
Take a break from caregiving! No one can do it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Find some respite – from family, friends, adult day care, in-home companions, whatever it takes – and participate in activities that may make you feel better, such as going to a movie or ballgame, gardening, exercise, attending church, or going to a social event.
3. Talk to Friends
Don't go it alone. Friends are there to help you through the bad times. Don't bottle up your feelings and keep them to yourself. Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive. Crying on a supportive friend's shoulder can have an immediate and positive impact on your mood.
4. Look into Self Help
Books can be buddies too! There are numerous books on the topic of depression and they are filled with techniques to deal with the sadness, anxiety and feelings of isolation that caregivers often experience. Visit your bookstore, or search amazon.com for depression. "Feeling Good" and "Beyond Blue" are two that come highly recommended.
5. Keep a Record
Start a diary and write down your feelings. Writing what you're feeling can provide a release for those emotions. Also, look for patterns. Do certain events, people or situations worsen your depression? One definition of suffering is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting different results. Next time that situation arises, you will notice if you are acting in the same way that didn't work in the past and can change that behavior.
6. Stay Busy
An inability to get through daily tasks can be a crippling symptom of depression. Feeling unable to make a decision or take a needed action can immobilize a caregiver. To overcome immobility, set realistic goals in light of the depression and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility. Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can.
7. Start a Project
The fastest way to get out of your head is to put it in a new project--compiling a family album, knitting a blanket, heading a civic association, taking an online course. Focusing your mind and your energy on a task makes it harder to focus on negative emotions.
8. Look for Strength in Numbers
support groups for people who suffer from depression meet in virtually every local community. Also look for groups geared towards caregivers. Knowing you are not alone in your struggles eliminates those feelings of isolation.
9. Get Professional Help
There are many treatments available for depression. Talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing and find a treatment plan that is right for you. This might include medications, counseling or both.
10. Try Supplements
Studies show that several natural supplements on the market today have been very effective in treating depression.
- St. John's wort - St. John's wort is the most thoroughly researched of the natural antidepressants. Studies show that St John's wort consistently alleviates depression, anxiety, apathy, and sleep disturbances.
- 5-HTP - 5-Hydroxytryptophan - The manufacture of serotonin in the brain depends on how much of the amino acid, tryptophan, is delivered to the brain. 5-HTP can help raise serotonin levels. 5-HTP also increases in endorphin and other mood-raising neurotransmitters.
- SAM-e - SAM-e boosts production and action of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters and promotes the methylation of phospholipids. Numerous clinical trials have confirmed the beneficial effects of SAMe on depression.
- Ginkgo biloba - People over age 50 who are depressed may actually be suffering from cerebrovascular insufficiency, a lack of blood flow to the brain. Ginkgo biloba significantly improves blood flow to the brain.
11. Be patient
Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time. People rarely "snap out of" a depression. But they can feel a little better day-by-day.