Caregiving takes a toll on mental health, especially for women and younger adults, according to a recent AARP survey.
The emotional stress that accompanies caring for an adult loved one is something that more than a third of family caregivers report. Four in 10 caregivers rarely or never feel relaxed.
Researchers are seeking to better understand how the 48 million adults providing unpaid care in the United States manage the anxiety, worry, and concern that often creeps into their daily routines. This effort comes as more than half (56%) of caregivers report that the role makes it difficult for them to care for their own mental health, and 41% report being lonely.
The survey found caregivers ages 18-34 to be most likely to suffer from anxiety as a result of caregiving. Caregivers ages 65 and older reported the lowest levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Further, women of all ages providing care consistently reported higher levels of stress and worry than men providing care.
The survey also revealed the value that caregiving can add to peoples lives. Despite the challenging emotions of caregiving, a resounding 82% of caregivers say the role gives them a sense of purpose in life, and 81% say it makes them feel good about themselves.
Coping with Emotional Stress
The 2023 survey identified the stressors faced by caregivers, but it also noted that many are finding ways to manage their mental health. Caregivers most frequently turn to self-care activities. The most popular coping mechanisms employed by caregivers include listening to music (70%), talking to friends/family (66%), and exercising (52%).
Beyond such basic self-care activities, caregivers often need greater relief and support, that is, if they have access to it. Some more formal means of addressing stress and mental health among caregivers include medication, therapy, and respite care. The researchers noted that further exploration of the barriers to these professionally-led services is needed.
The survey of 1,001 U.S. adults ages 18 and older was conducted May 1-14, 2023. All participants either currently provide unpaid care for an adult loved one or have provided care in the last three years. The sampling included those reached by landline, cell phone, and online. The questionnaire lasted 14 minutes by phone and seven minutes online. The data were weighted by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and education.