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Palliative Care Center

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Caregiver Care: Managing Stress, Depression

Handling Caregiver Depression, Burnout

Recognizing that the stress you are experiencing can sometimes lead to depression is the first step to preventing it -- and burnout.

To take that step, talk about your feelings, frustrations, and fears with the palliative care team's social worker or mental health professional. Talking helps you understand what's going on for you and for the person in your care. It helps you come to grips with the fact that you are not in total control of the situation.

"When caregivers understand that, there can be a tremendous sense of relief that allows them to set more realistic goals, including goals for when they are no longer caregiving," Steinman says.

In addition, to keep depression at bay:

  • Maintain a life outside of caregiving. Stay connected to friends. Don't give up your daily routines.
  • Maintain your health. Get regular check-ups, eat a balanced diet, and exercise. "It wasn't until I was hospitalized that I started thinking about my own health. That was a real wake-up call," says Nancy Knitter, who is caring for her husband with Parkinson's disease in their Rochester Hills, MI, home.
  • Exercise. It un-kinks tense muscles, revs up the cardiovascular system, and floods the brain with feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins.
  • Use simple de-stressing techniques: deep breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation, and self-massage. And laugh. "People don't think of humor as a way to cope with stress, but they should," says Irv Ginsburg, of Ooltewah, TN, who cared for his wife, Nada, while she had brain cancer.
  • Join a support group. In support groups, you validate your role as caregiver, voice your fears, vent your frustrations, and learn coping strategies and techniques. Hospitals and most disease-specific organizations sponsor groups. If you can't get out to a group, many organizations sponsor online support groups, and the Veterans Administration has a free caregiver support line (855-260-3274).
  • Ask for help from the palliative care team, family, and friends. Delegating lessens stress and provides ways for others to show they care. "People want to help, they just don't know what needs doing," says Helene Morgan, MSW, clinical social worker in the pediatric palliative care program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
  • Use respite care. Organizations -- home health agencies, adult day care programs, nursing homes, faith groups, Area Agencies on Aging, the Veterans Administration -- and friends can provide short breaks that lessen stress and allow batteries to recharge. "Using respite care didn't just help me with the caregiving, it helped my wife and me have a social life," Spisak says.

And finally, if you think you are becoming depressed, talk to the palliative care team's mental health professional or your doctor about treatment for depression.

WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 01, 2013
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