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A Survival Guide for Caregivers with Depression and Anxiety

Disabled with nurseAre you caring for a family member who has a chronic illness? Are you perhaps even part of the so-called “Sandwich Generation”—taking care of your children and your aging parents? Be honest: are you struggling with anxietydepression, or other mental health issues because of your caregiver role?

Caregiving can take a toll on the caregiver because of the demands a chronic illness can create. Regardless of whom you’re caring for, there’s no doubt you feel the pressure of these demands. Chronic illness is especially challenging because of daily stresses such as medication management, doctor appointments, therapies, etc., not to mention the unpredictability of symptoms. These burdens can cause caregivers to feel anxious, depressed, resentful, or even angry, all of which are normal reactions.

Caregiving can be time consuming, physically challenging, and emotionally draining. Giving of one’s time and energy can be exhausting, and many caregivers find themselves experiencing burnout. Signs of burnout, much like signs of depression, can include irritability, changes in sleep patterns, sadness or hopelessness, weight gain or loss, and withdrawal from others.

Research shows that 40% to 70% of caregivers experience anxiety and/or depression. Let’s hit that home: 10% to 12% of people in the United States report depression at any given time, so it’s significant that nearly half of caregivers report depression or anxiety. It shows just how much of a toll caregiving can take.

Is this your experience as a caregiver? How do you combat depression, anxiety, and other issues? Here are six caregiver “survival” tips:

  1. Take care of yourself first: You can’t help anyone if you’re sick, tired, or drained. You can’t pour from an empty cup! Taking time to care for yourself is of the utmost importance.
  2. Ask for help: Caregiving does not have to be just your responsibility. In fact, the more you do, the more others expect you to do. Getting support to share the responsibilities can help you avoid caregiver burnout.
  3. Be realistic: The more you know about the diagnosis, treatments, and prognosis, the more empowered you will feel. Ask your doctor questions and search the web on reputable medical websites.
  4. Access respite care: Respite care is a service that allows caretakers to have a break. The break can be from a few hours to a few days. You can also ask another family member or a friend to give you some time off.
  5. Find emotional support: Having someone to share your feelings with can help ease the burden of caregiving. You don’t have to feel alone and helpless. Find a trusted and compassionate person who allows you to talk without giving advice or judging the situation.
  6. Seek therapy: If you’re still struggling, find a therapist who is knowledgeable about chronic illness. Working with a therapist can help you learn to better cope with caregiver challenges.

There is no doubt caregiving for a family member with chronic illness can have adverse effects on the caregiver, but there are ways to combat issues such as anxiety and depression. Most importantly, caring for yourself will allow you to have the resources to continue caregiving.


  1. Taking care of YOU: Self-care for family caregivers. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2012, December 30). Retrieved from https://org/taking-care-you-self-care-family-caregivers
  2. Tarantine, R. (2014, August 7). The sandwich generation: Who is caring for you? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, Health / Illness / Medical Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Annie

    November 19th, 2015 at 9:05 AM

    My MIL refuses any help with my FIL even though he is still at home and she does everything for him. How could I get her to see that it is alright to ask for help?

  • melissa

    November 19th, 2015 at 11:45 AM

    I am my moms caregiver. She has Alzheimers. She still can do alot but she can’t be left alone. I have alot of guilt issues if I try and do anything without her. Even her moods can make me feel guilty. Why I don’t know. Your mil my have the same issue and not know to express them.

  • Patricia

    November 19th, 2015 at 12:38 PM

    Annie I do hope that eventually she will see that this isn’t something that she needs to do alone and will at least allow others to try to pitch in and help. I think that she probably thinks that she is the one who can give him the best care, and while in some cases this might be true, what is going to happen when she has nothing left to give of herself? maybe sitting down with her and being honest about how you feel about the situation would be a good thing. She is going to wear herself to the bone if you don’t.

  • Iris

    November 19th, 2015 at 2:12 PM

    If you have a family member who is getting sick because of the care that they are giving to another then it is time to step in and offer up some help.
    You need to give them some time to get away from always having to give and care and give them some time so that they can relax and get something else out of life other than this time caring for another person.
    You don’t realize just how draining and exhausting it can be spending all of your time doing this for another. And even though in most cases this is something that they choose to be doing, that does not ever make it any easier.

  • Reena

    November 20th, 2015 at 8:04 AM

    How about getting them involved with a support group? This can be so beneficial for those who spend so much of their time caring for others and who never take that same time to do anything for themselves. Sometimes it helps just to be able to talk with others who know exactly what you are feeling and experiencing.

  • Zeb

    November 20th, 2015 at 9:48 AM

    I wish that there were more medical providers who would be more willing to talk with the caregivers about the realities of what they will be facing. I do not think that they want to tell you just how bad it can be which leads to many more people thinking that they can do all of this on their own than what there should be. I think that if the doctors would just be honest and tell people that they are going to need some help with this then you might find more people willing to seek that out.

  • Beverly

    November 20th, 2015 at 5:10 PM

    I am a practicing therapist in NW Georgia. I took care of my elderly aunt in my home for more than a year. I loved her so much but when she fell with nobody home I had to look at nursing care. Their comes a time when one must realize that this is too heavy a load. It is closely related to having a young child in the house. It will wear you out, physically and emotionally. You MUST take care of yourself. You can really use up all your day’s energy by 9:00 AM.

  • moses

    November 21st, 2015 at 6:04 AM

    Does anyone have the name of some websites that my mom might could look at to help her? She takes care of an elderly lady who never wants her out of her sight.

  • Sharon Dyall, MA

    November 21st, 2015 at 7:05 AM

    Timely information. Self care is vital to one’s existance.

  • Laurel Beason, LCSW

    November 21st, 2015 at 7:28 PM

    For the past 11 years I have been caring for my husband who has Parkinson’s w/dementia. I have a great support system of understanding friends, a good group of caregivers who come in daily when I work and understanding medical doctors who help me manage my anxiety medically as well as physically. Caring for him has been overwhelming at times – it is just like having a toddler in the house. “Exhausted by nine am” is exactly right. He went to stay with his sister for three weeks which was total bliss for me – she complained daily about how difficult it was… I have recently figured out that boundaries are very important for him and me. I want to be the loving wife, but lose that role doing all the things he can’t. I recently started having him watch tv in his room. It leaves the living area space free and allows me to ck on him instead of being constantly interrupted. Caregiving is a fluid process, the more help, relief and laughter you can squeeze in the better. Blessings to all who are caregiving for a loved one.

  • Barbie

    November 23rd, 2015 at 6:51 AM

    Why is it sometimes the hardest thing to ask for help from other people?

  • Nicholas

    November 24th, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    These are the people who give so much of their time and really their lives over to the care of someone else and they rarely get the thanks or the recognition and appreciation that they deserve. They do all of their work behind the scenes for either very little money or for nothing even and yet they are worked to the bone and hardly ever get what they deserve in compensation. It’s sad really when you think about it- they are sometimes giving everything that they have to the care of someone else.

  • Gregg

    November 27th, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    @ barbie- I think that in the case of my mother it is still that she doesn’t think that there is anyone else who can give my dad the same kind of care that she can.

    It’s not that there are not enough of us aorund to help her out, but she will not ask and honestly even if she did most of us feel like she would be breathing down our necks just looking for the things that we were doing wrong.

    Doesn’t mean that I stop trying to help, I just try to do things that I know will make her happy and not even more anxious.

  • chris

    November 28th, 2015 at 8:27 AM

    If you know someone who is giving their all to care for another person then why not just step in a give them some help? You pretty much know that this is not going to be a person who will speak up and ask for help right? So why not offer it to them and not give them any real choice about it?

  • Raina

    November 29th, 2015 at 1:23 PM

    Are we talking caregivers who already suffer from some form of depression themselves or those who develop these feelings due to the intensive work that they are doing with and for others? because I think that those are totally different things. I would hope that someone who already knows that they are predisposed to this and have already been feeling depressed would seek out help sooner rather than later. As for those who may feel it as a result of job stress then they have to be willing to engage the help of others to get them past it.

  • Richard C

    June 19th, 2016 at 8:51 PM

    There are caregivers with pre-existing depression who step into a caregiving role. Surprisingly, little academic research is available to suggest whether caregiver related stress/depression is additive, making existing depression more severe or simply a substitute stressor with little or no incremental effect.

  • noelle

    November 30th, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    These are unsung heroes, those who give so much time and energy caring for another person. Many times this is not even someone that they are related to, just someone that they know in another capacity and have been tasked to care for. I know that many receive compensation for their work, but you know that that is generally not ever quite as much as they deserve. And then think about those who do it and never get paid, it just becomes a part of what is expected of them because this is a family member.

  • Trudy Scott, Food Mood Expert and Nutritionist

    January 30th, 2017 at 6:49 PM

    Wonderful advice for a very common problem. I’d like to add nutritional support for the caregiver. This means nutrient-dense meals and no sugar, no caffeine, a trial with no gluten (a common factor with anxiety/depression), quality animal protein at breakfast, and a good copper free multi, a good B complex, often additional pantothenic acid and rhodiola for adrenal support, extra zinc (important for stress and depleted by stress), and GABA (calming) and tryptophan (for depression and worry and sleep) if needed. And all the other lifestyle factors like sleep, laughter, nature, hugs, exercise, yoga etc

  • Maria G.

    May 13th, 2020 at 4:37 AM

    Completely agree that caregivers should ask help, but it must not be limited to taking help in caregiving duties. I think caregivers should also seek help for themselves because most of the time, they silently endure loneliness, depression, and frustration of not doing the best for their loved ones. Things are often more difficult for first-time caregivers. So, I believe that instead of assuming that it is easy to become a caregiver after an emergency call from your loved one, it is important to undergo caregiver coaching. Yes, caregiving resources are vital to continue the role of a caregiver, but tips and advice from an experienced caregiver often prove more valuable for caregiver survival.

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