Caring for the Caregiver
Dr. Renuka Dangare

Dr. Renuka Dangare

Jan 08Mental health

Caring for the Caregiver

“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible” – Tia Walker

A caregiver is one who tends to the needs of someone who needs help taking care of themselves because of injury, illness or disability.

The person may be a child, an adult, or an older adult.

They may have a chronic illness such as Alzheimer's disease or cancer or be a person with special needs.

Living with a person in need of caregiving can leave you struggling for some free time.

Furthermore, this can cause considerable mental, physical and emotional stress.

The concept of ‘me time’ ends up being more of a fantasy than an actual reality.

Studies show that parents or caregivers raising children with additional needs, experience a higher rate of burnout than those who do not deal with such needs.

So what is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout can be defined as the state of feeling overwhelmed by our responsibilities as a carer, being emotionally and physically exhausted and undervalued for the care that one provides.

Why do caregivers need a break?

Dealing with a child who has special needs is a lot of responsibility and as a parent or caregiver; you might feel that you always need to be there for your child.

However, there is only so much that you can give before feeling mentally, emotionally and physically drained.

Therefore, taking out some time for self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. Taking time off to recharge and rejuvenate will not only benefit you but also your child. Children also learn that there are others to help them out and do not solely rely on you.

Christine Mortimer, a counselor with extensive experience in advising people with chronic conditions and their caregivers, said the mental health challenges for the carer can include lack of sleep because of 24-hour care and the toll that fatigue takes on the ability to function, which, in turn, can affect the ability to help with the physical needs of the patient and the effect that can have on the mental well-being of the carer.

“Feelings of failure at not being able to ease the pain and anxiety of the patient can impact on the carer’s own self-esteem and sow seeds of doubt that they are not good enough for the job, leading to feelings of guilt and then low mood when depression could take hold,” Mortimer adds.

And this impact becomes even more serious in the context of a public health emergency, such as the current pandemic that has taken the world by storm.

A recent paper in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management explains how the pandemic is likely to raise the stress levels of family caregivers and affect their mental health.

Some of the factors contributing to poorer mental health among caregivers in this period are-

  • An increased sense of isolation and reduced access to official sources of support due to physical distancing measures
  • Increased financial strain
  • Delays or cancellations in formal primary care services for themselves and their loved ones

In the current pandemic crisis, the challenges that carers face normally are exacerbated and heightened by the restrictions and changes to schedules and activities.

Day centres where carers can go and meet with other carers will have been closed.

Parents with children with severe disabilities will have to cope by themselves at home.

The demands of caregiving can be exhausting and overwhelming. But there are steps you can take to rein in stress and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.



How to deal with caregiver stress

So now that you are ready, how do you begin? Changing just one thing, making a small tweak in your schedule towards self-care can really be impactful and benefit you.

Self-care need not be expensive or time-consuming. Here are a few tips that can be free, help you relax and shed that excess stress :

  • Exercise : This requires no introduction. The benefits of exercise are seen mentally, physically as well as emotionally. Taking out a few moments to focus on your physical self, whether it is taking a short walk, doing yoga, busting out into a dance move or even meditating can have positive effects on your mood and energy.
  • Nourishment and nutrition : There is a tendency to skip meals or overindulge in foods that do not particularly serve us well. Balancing our meals with a healthy dose of nutritious and fresh food can do wonders. This will also help set an example for your child and thus help inculcate healthy eating habits.
  • Sleep : Yes this might sound impossible especially if you have a young child! However, sneaking in a few extra forty winks will help recharge your batteries and equip you to better handle the challenges thrown at you.
  • ‘Me’ time : Spending some time doing things for yourself whether it is reading a book, listening to music, indulging in creative activities like art or dance, sipping your favorite beverage all by yourself, watching your favorite show, the list is endless. Find that special ‘me’ time as a favour to you!
  • Reach out for support : Positive reinforcement doesn’t have to come from the person you’re caring for. When you’re feeling unappreciated, turn to friends and family who will listen to you and acknowledge your efforts. Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or watch the patient so you can take a well-deserved break. Volunteers or paid help can also provide in-home services, either occasionally or on a regular basis.
  • Emotional well-being of caregivers : The emotional well-being of caregivers is an important focus in dementia care, says Beau M. Ances, MD, PhD, FAAN, endowed professor of neurology at Washington University in St. Louis. Devote attention to yourself by using your loved one’s nap time to meditate, do yoga, write in a journal, listen to music, or talk to a friend.

Meditation and calming exercises are available on apps like Calm, Happify, Zen, Headspace, and Stop, Breathe & Think.

It’s important to realise you aren’t alone. One’s community can help in a variety of ways.

“You can’t do it all by yourself,” he said. “You need to ask for assistance from family and friends.”

Saying NO

As hard as it sounds, you have the permission to say NO! If the situation or occasion isn’t crucial to your or your family’s wellness and happiness, you are not obligated to say yes. It's time to prioritize de-stressing!

Families with children with special needs may not be able to control many aspects in their lives however; a few small changes can help you tackle your challenges better.

Remember, YOU come first!

References :

Riehs, A. (n.d.). SourceKids . Retrieved December 2020, from https://www.sourcekids.com.au/self-care-for-special-needs-families-in-times-of-stress-avoiding-caregiver-burnout/

Larissa Hirsch, M. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2020, from KidsHealth : https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/respite-care.html

Diana Hull PA-C, M. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2020, from Today's Caregiver: https://caregiver.com/articles/realm-of-resiliency/

Disclaimer - This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

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