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Dr. Shantel Sullivan earned her EdD in Educational Leadership and her MSW in Advanced Generalist Social Work from the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. She strongly believes that each patient is their own expert. She listens intently and uses a strengths-based approach to find solutions that meet her clients’ individual needs. Her core methodology involves positive psychology, CBT, narrative theory, and solution-focused brief therapy. Dr. Sullivan is now the lead therapist for the MindPath Addiction Recovery Center in Raleigh, NC.

Finding Balance as a Caregiver

By Shantel Sullivan, EdD, LCSW, MSW

This article has been written to honor my Stepdad, Doug Hall, who left his worldly shell on May 30, 2019, after a long battle with Cobalt Disease and to my loving mother who cared for him.

Are you or someone you know caring for a parent, grandparent, or older loved one? Chances are if you aren’t, someone you know is. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (2015), in the United States, a conservative estimate reports that roughly 39.8 million people are taking care of a loved one over the age of 18 who has a disability or illness.

Shantel Sullivan, EdD,

And the hard truth is: Americans are living longer and the cost associated with long-term care is often financially unrealistic. Thus, demands on caregivers are only likely to increase.

What is caregiving? The American Psychological Association has defined caregiving as having to help a care-recipient with at least one activity of daily living (ADL). This may include things such as meal preparation, eating, dressing, maintaining personal hygiene, and transferring in and out of bed or a chair. And, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2015), 92 percent of caregivers report providing 21 hours or more per week of care to the care-recipient.

It’s no wonder—given the demands placed on them—that caregivers would begin to neglect their own physical, mental, and emotional needs. In fact, in studies caregivers have reported a reduction in positive activities associated with the time spent caring for their loved one.

This time of caregiving can be mentally, physically, and financially exhausting. An article published by the Family Caregiver Alliance called caregiver depression, “a silent crisis”—with depression twice as likely to occur in caregivers than in the general population. Symptoms of depression can manifest as anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation, fatigue, and increased substance use. This is caused by the caregiver attempting to maintain and manage their own daily routine and needs with those of the care-recipients. Caregivers may be juggling job, family, another care-recipient, and their own medical well-being simultaneously.

And caregivers are human—even the most resilient person can get burnt out and overwhelmed.

Finding Balance for the Caregiver

So, the question becomes: how do we provide care to the people we love and stay happy and healthy doing so? Here are some tips to healthy, balanced caregiving.

1: Schedule and keep your own appointments. Caregivers cannot continue to care for others if they are not well themselves. Thus, be sure to keep up with your regular scheduled medical appointments. Your physical, mental, and emotional health are worth your attention too!

2: Accept help. When someone offers to lessen the load or step in to help, let them. Your friends and family members also want to contribute; give them the opportunity to give you a break.

3: Stay true to yourself. Caring for a loved one can sometimes begin to become one’s sense of identity. Know that you are many things and being a caregiver is a piece of you—not all of you. Find time for doing things you enjoy; keep your hobbies.

4: Find time to reminisce. For everyone involved—caregiver and care-recipient—roles and relationship to one another and their environment changes; it must. However, be sure to spend time laughing, sharing memories, and acknowledging the role shift—particularly when caring for a parent or spouse.

5: Be kind to yourself. Engage in positive self-talk. Remind yourself regularly and often, that you are loved, valued, special, and doing the best you can.

6: Finally, be sure to check out the resources in your area. Often participating in a peer-support group and taking advantages of respite programs in your community can be extremely helpful. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of depression or adverse emotional distress, talk with your medical provider. You do not have to do this alone, nor should you. Again, you and your well-being matter, too.