If you're a caregiver for a family member, you need to look after your own mental health to provide the best care for others, an expert says.
Caregivers are at increased risk for depression and anxiety. Clinically significant symptoms of depression occur in 40%-70% of caregivers, and major depression occurs in 25%-50% of these caregivers, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
"Taking time to care for yourself is not selfish. In order to have the strength to care for a loved one, it is extremely important that caregivers take care of their own physical and mental health," said Dr. Vassilios Latoussakis, a psychiatrist at Gracie Square Hospital, a psychiatric facility in New York City.
As part of National Family Caregivers Month in November, Latoussakis offered the following advice.
Pay attention to your stress levels, he said in a hospital news release. If you find yourself crying, losing your temper or having fantasies of rescue or flight, seek help.
Stress can affect your physical health, causing problems such as headaches, sleep issues, heart troubles, high blood pressure, and elevated fat and sugar levels. If you're feeling the effects of stress, make an appointment with your primary care provider, Latoussakis advised.
There are a number of ways to reduce stress, including regular physical activity, relaxation techniques such as breathing, yoga or mindfulness, making time to see friends, and doing activities you enjoy.
It's important to have a support network of people with whom you can talk, confide and gripe. Another good idea is to join a support group of caregivers where you can share concerns, practical issues and problems, Latoussakis said.
More than 34 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or older in the past year, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on caregiver health and wellness.