Got Anxiety? Dodging caregiver burnout when helping loved ones

Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D.
Mary B. Barmann, MFT

Editor’s note

This is the third in a three-part series regarding anxiety with older adults.

Click here to read Part One.

Click here to read Part Two.

Providing care for elderly loved ones or friends with anxiety is an act of love, loyalty and kindness. Older adults with anxiety and depression require more support, have more severe physical symptoms and disability, and experience poorer quality of life and a higher rate of suicidal thoughts.

There’s no getting around it — caregiving is stressful. The constant, sometimes overwhelming nature of being a caregiver can put us at greater risk of developing depression and burnout.

Learning to manage stress is an integral part of being a good caregiver. If you’re living with or caring for an aging parent or loved one experiencing anxiety, you may feel overwhelmed by new and intimidating responsibilities, isolated from friends, and not understood by others not in the position you’re in.

Below are several tips that can help you get the support you need while caring for someone you love:

Educate Yourself

Learn as much as possible about the type of anxiety your loved one is experiencing. The more you know, the less anxiety you’ll feel about your new role and the more effective you’ll be. Seek out geriatric physicians and psychiatrists; read up on geriatric anxiety in books and on the web.

Accept Your Feelings and Talk About Them

It’s important to acknowledge and accept all the feelings you’re experiencing — both good and bad, and talk about them. Caregiving produces a lot of difficult emotions, including fear, anger, guilt, resentment, helplessness and grief.

It’s common to worry about your loved one’s future and what will happen to them if something happens to you. It’s likely that you’ll be resentful of other family members and friends who don’t have your responsibilities.

And it’s probable that you’ll feel guilty when you’re impatient and not as kind as you would like. You may get caught up with thinking that these feelings mean you don’t love your family member — but don’t beat yourself up over these doubts and misgivings.

You’ll waste less time and energy if you acknowledge that these feelings simply mean you’re human. Find at least one person you trust to confide in and talk about your feelings.

Look toward friends, family members, your religious circle, local and national caregiver organizations, or find a therapist if you don’t feel comfortable talking with the people you know.

Ask For Help — Don’t Try To Do It All

It isn’t easy for most of us to ask for help. But success in supporting the aging adult with anxiety depends on a partnership between many people and your willingness to say “Yes.”

It helps to know you’re not alone. Ask family and friends for help — you may be surprised by the willingness of others to assist. They often want to help but don’t know how.

Work off a list of caregiving needs for your elderly loved one, review the list with helpful others and then delegate responsibilities such as grocery shopping, errands, social visits.

Take advantage of community services such as home health aides, transportation services, and home-delivered meals. Some of these services may be covered by insurance. Call your local senior center, or affiliations such as the Elks lodge, where your aging loved one is a member.

Attend To Your Own Emotional, Social and Recreational Needs

Good caregiving requires that you connect with your elderly loved one in a calm, relaxing and reassuring way. This type of care lowers stress and supports physical and emotional well-being for everyone.

If you are experiencing caregiver burn out, you won’t be able to care well for your loved one. Take the time to care for your emotional needs. Take time to relax at least 30 minutes each day to relieve stress.

Keep a journal. Meditate or pray to feed your spirit and find meaning in your role as a caregiver. Stay social and do things that you enjoy. Visit other people regularly for opportunities to laugh and be joyful.

Take regular breaks from caregiving to stay involved in hobbies and other interests. Join a group, club or organization to broaden your support network. Keep on top of your health care. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep sufficiently, avoid excessive alcohol, caffeine, and drugs.

Our capacity to care gives life deep meaning and significance. It is imperative that caregivers providing support for their aging loved one with anxiety get the support they need in order to maintain that capacity to care.

Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit to learn more.

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