Managing Stress and Burnout When Caring for Others
Over 53 million people serve as unpaid caregivers for their loved ones in the U.S. And it’s not just the rapidly growing demographic of aging baby boomers who may require care. Seniorliving.org describes two additional groups who receive care in some form from a family member. The “sandwich generation” refers to adults who are caring for both aging parents and minor children, and the “club sandwich generation” refers to adults who are caring for aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.
The Stresses of Caregiving
Many people filling the role of caregiver struggle with the pressures and responsibilities of juggling childcare, their career, and caring for elderly parents or relatives. Managing medications, providing transportation, coordinating medical appointments, assisting with bills and finances, making care arrangements, and providing emotional support can add up to a heavy burden. The stresses of caring for both young and old can lead to burnout, financial strain, and health problems for those in the sandwich generation. With people living longer and having children later, this caregiving crunch will likely intensify in the coming decades.
The Toll of Caregiving on Mental Health
Taking on the role of caregiver for a loved one undoubtedly takes a toll on mental health. The demands of caregiving responsibilities lead to things like stress and anxiety. When the strain is persistent it can also lead to depression and other mental health challenges in many caregivers. Lacking time for self-care, adequate rest, and relationships outside of the caregiving role may cause caregivers to cut out social engagements and friendships. This social isolation may exacerbate growing mental health issues and feelings of loneliness. The strain may also lead to burnout, fatigue, and decreased motivation. Caregivers neglect their own health, nutrition, sleep, or medical care can add even more to the burden.
How Digital Mental Health Solutions Can Help
The demands of caregiving can leave little time for self-care, including seeking mental health support. Financial constraints and emotional hurdles can also deter caregivers from formal therapy. Easily accessible digital mental health resources can be invaluable. Caregivers can prioritize their well-being amidst caregiving duties by using online, self-paced programs that are available 24/7. The flexibility to engage with mental health content on their own time, on a mobile device or computer, and in the comfort of home aligns well with their unpredictable and busy life. Digital mental health tools can reach caregivers who otherwise may not have the means or availability to access a therapist’s office. For this overburdened population, on-demand online mental health care can fill a critical gap.
The Unique Advantages of CBT for Caregivers
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly helpful tool to manage the stress and emotional toll of caregiving responsibilities. It offers research-backed techniques to counteract, reframe, and deal with the difficult thoughts, emotions, and situations that caregivers encounter. CBT provides tools to disrupt pessimistic thinking patterns, teaching caregivers to identify automatic negative thinking traps like "I'll never get a break", and replace them with more realistic perspectives. CBT also focuses on examining cognitive distortions to reveal how the mind may be exaggerating and overgeneralizing problems.
CBT further helps caregivers look at their patterns of behavior in response to stress, anxiety, and depression. Effective CBT techniques include developing healthier coping mechanisms and setting appropriate boundaries around self-care. Practicing mindfulness, living in the present, and employing CBT relaxation methods gives overwhelmed caregivers ways to calm both body and mind. CBT also encourages focusing on what is controllable. By counteracting self-criticism and cultivating self-compassion, caregivers can be kinder to themselves.
With the growing shortage of professional caregivers and the increasing scarcity of mental health care providers, the stress on family caregivers will continue, making digital solutions and the evidence-based lessons of CBT all the more crucial.