To care for those who once cared for you is the highest honour

A caregiver is an individual, usually a family member or loved one, who helps with physical and psychological care for someone in need. In managing chronic illnesses, mental illnesses, and conditions related to old age, a caregiver’s role is essential. Caregiving duties include helping the patient with various day-to-day activities and acting as emotional support for a patient.

While caregiving can be profoundly fulfilling as crises bring loved ones closer, it can also take a toll on the individual. Not only does one have to deal with the grief of seeing a loved one in pain, but also be a part of the ups and downs of their illness. While it is rewarding to be a caregiver and is a central tenet of most people’s core values to be there for a loved one when they need you – it can be very stressful and emotionally draining. It is natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone, pessimistic, hopeless and sad. Caregiver stress – the mental, emotional and physical stress that accompanies caregiving – is common.

And like all other kinds of stress, if it is repressed and not dealt with holistically, it can soon spiral into burnout. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. The stress can not only severely impact your own life and health, but also that of your loved one. Seeing the ones they love stressed increases depression and hopelessness amongst patients, and they begin to view themselves as a burden. Therefore, it is essential to start treating self-care as a caregiver not as a luxury, but as a necessity.

Common Signs of Caregiver Stress

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability.
  • Feeling tired and run down.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances.
  • New or worsening health problems.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Feeling increasingly resentful.
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more.
  • Neglecting responsibilities.
  • Cutting back on leisure activities.

Common Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

  • You have much less energy than you once had.
  • It seems like you catch every cold or bout of flu that’s going around.
  • You’re always exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break.
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore.
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction.
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available.
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for.
  • You feel helpless and hopeless.

Ways to Cope

Living with and caring for a loved one can be emotionally exhausting. During this time, it is vital to take care of yourself as a caregiver. Here are some tips for coping emotionally, physically and mentally with the stress of being a caregiver:

1. Educate Yourself about the Disease and Practise Acceptance

The correct information and education about the disease will empower you to feel more in-charge of the situation. Knowledge also helps establish clear boundaries between where, when and how you can help, and more importantly – where you cannot. Having the right information will also give you clarity regarding your role and make you feel more comfortable with role changes. Ask medical experts and doctors as many questions as you want during appointments and use a reliable source of information to understand the condition better.

The hand that fate has dealt you can seem very unfair, leaving you burdened with a sense of helplessness. It is easy to get trapped in the emotional dwellings of why this happened to your loved one. However, this can only further lead to depression and stress, ultimately leaving you in a more confused state than before. Practise acceptance of the condition, and embrace your caregiving choice to feel more empowered.

2. Take Care of Yourself and Practise Healthy Living

It is essential to take care of yourself before you take care of others. Keep on top of your doctors’ appointments, exercise and eat nutritiously to stay active and healthy not only for your loved one but also yourself. Don’t skip on sleep, as you need to recharge your batteries for the next day. Practise meditation and relaxation to help you deal with stress and find ways to live as a caregiver sustainably.

Taking care of your mental and emotional help is as essential as taking care of your physical health. Don’t expect friends and family members to always know what you need or how you’re feeling. Start a dialogue and express your needs, thoughts and emotions freely without being worried about how they will be received. Seek out the help of a professional if you begin to feel overburdened, stressed or depressed. Join online or offline support groups to share your emotions with a group of people who have gone through a similar situation – being part of a community can give you strength.

3. Ask for Help and Take a Break

It is essential to have a strong support system during such challenging times. Family, friends, neighbours and colleagues are those you can rely on when the going gets even tougher. It can be difficult and awkward to ask others’ help but realise that you need a break. We can often become sticklers and rigid about how we take care of our loved ones, thinking that we should have to do it all. However, this is an unsustainable and unhealthy way to approach a solution for a long-term condition. The best way to avoid burnout is to accept help. People often want to help – just ask. Divide the responsibility, and take a break.

To Sum It Up:

Being a caregiver is an incredibly important, yet unrecognised and underappreciated job. As caregivers, one can often neglect their own physical, mental and emotional wellness while investing all their energy into taking care of their sick loved one. As flight attendants say, ensure that you have your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. To take care of your loved ones, being healthy yourself is the very first step. It is essential to accept help, build a sustainable way of life. If you need an empathetic, objective helping hand, you can always choose to speak to one of our therapists at DocVita:!