Anxiety increases stress and decreases well-being
There’s a lot to worry about when you’re caring for an older adult. That anxiety can pump up your stress and harm your health.
To cope with caregiver anxiety and protect your health, it’s helpful to have a variety of go-to anxiety relief techniques. Depending on the situation, you might find that some methods work better than others.
To help you reduce and manage anxiety, we found 8 useful tips.
We share highlights from these tips and share suggestions for how to use them to reduce anxiety in caregiving situations.
8 ways to relieve caregiver anxiety
1. Take deep calming breaths
When you’re feeling anxious, your breathing changes subconsciously.
You might take fast, shallow breaths or hold your breath.
But to start the relaxation process, your body needs the oxygen that comes from slow, deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth.
When you notice that you’re anxious, purposely start breathing in a slow and controlled manner.
You might use a technique like square breathing, simply counting to 5 on both inhale and exhale.
2. Identify distorted thinking
When we get stressed and anxious, our brain often starts exaggerating the situation and thinking only of worst case scenarios – no matter how untrue or unlikely they are to happen.
Of course, that kind of thinking only increases anxiety.
To help you calm and redirect your thoughts, focus on identifying cognitive distortions.
Cognitive distortions are unhealthy thought habits that cause emotional upset, like:
- All-or-nothing thinking, over-catastrophized thinking – “I’m totally incompetent. I’ll never do a good job as a caregiver.“
- Fortune telling – “I’ll keep making mistakes and that will cause my older adult to get worse.”
- Mind reading – “She thinks I’m a terrible caregiver!” or “He’s doing this on purpose because he hates me.”
- Labeling – “I’m the worst caregiver.”
- Shoulding – “I should have known not to do that.“ or “I should have known to make a different decision.“
- Here’s how to do it:
- Create 3 columns on paper or on your computer.
- In the 1st column, write the anxiety-provoking thoughts, like “Caregiving is going to take over and I’ll have no life of my own.”
- In the 2nd column, write the type of distortion. In this example, it’s all-or-nothing thinking and fortune telling.
- In the 3rd column, write rational and factual alternative, like “Caregiving is taking up a lot of time right now, but I will work on ways to get more help and support so I can take time for myself too.”
3. Practice cognitive defusion
Another technique that relieves caregiver anxiety is to practice something called cognitive defusion.
This is when you “defuse” or separate thoughts from your mind. So, you’d pretend to be looking at and observing the thoughts rather than thinking those thoughts.
For example, you might say “I’m the worst caregiver and I’ll never be any good.” Using cognitive defusion, you’d change that to “I’m having the thought again that I’m the worst caregiver.”
In the first sentence, you believe the thought. In the second sentence you’re observing the thought.
This creates distance from your thoughts and makes them less personal and powerful.
4. Be mindful and stay in the moment
Part of what causes anxiety is our judgements about and reaction to what’s happening. Reducing those natural reactions decreases the stress.
That’s where mindfulness can help. It isn’t just meditation, it’s something that helps you stay in the present moment and become more aware of yourself and the world around you.
When you’re mindful, you aren’t thinking about the past or future.
You’re less anxious because you accept things as they are and aren’t judging whether they’re good or bad or how things “should” be.
5. Write down your thoughts
Keeping a journal or writing down your thoughts when you’re anxious is a simple, but effective way to reduce worry.
Writing about caregiving emotions like anxiety reduces the intensity of those feelings.
Getting these thoughts out of your head and down on paper helps you feel calmer and less stressed.
Seeing your thoughts on paper also gives you a different perspective. That often makes it easier to recognize and change unhealthy thought patterns like distorted thinking.
6. Stay grateful and positive
Looking for and reminding yourself of the positive things limits negativity and helps rein in those out-of-control thoughts.
Just to be clear, being grateful or positive doesn’t mean ignoring negative feelings. It doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to be thankful no matter how hard caregiving gets.
Gratitude is about noticing that there are always some positive things in your life, no matter how dark things may seem.
Being aware of that helps you get a different perspective and see that things are not 100% terrible all the time. That keeps you grounded in reality and not stuck with “what if” or worst case thinking.
Consider keeping a gratitude journal, a quick gratitude calendar, or taking a 10- or 21-day gratitude challenge.
7. Don’t go it alone, get support
Feeling like you’re alone in a difficult situation intensifies anxious thinking.
Just talking with others in similar situations gives the relief of knowing that what you’re going through is normal and that you’re not the only one with these feelings.
When you’re anxious or stressed, reach out for support and help by:
- Talk with fellow caregivers at a support group – in person, online, or both!
- Call an understanding friend and vent your frustrations
- Speak with a trained counselor to learn coping tips and feel free to say anything
- Talk with a trusted religious or spiritual leader
8. Talk nicely to yourself
One effective anxiety-reducing tool is positive self talk.
Self talk is basically the voice that’s always in your head. It usually happens without you even noticing and can be either positive or negative.
Speaking to yourself in a positive, supportive way a lot more pleasant and calming than a steady stream of negativity.
To reduce anxiety, work on decreasing the amount and intensity of negative self talk while increasing positive self talk.
It might help to think about how you would speak with a close friend or family member. You would be supportive and kind, not berate or discourage them.
Treat yourself in that same positive way.