Caregiver First Aid: Become a better self advocate

Caregiver First Aid: Become a better self advocate

The current pandemic has brought about a huge turmoil in the mental health domain. More such this pandemic has increased the levels of distress among caregivers. When a family member or loved one is going through an illness it is not only them who is suffering, their illness may have a huge impact on their family and friends around them. Taking in the role as a caregiver is highly challenging as the sick one needs and expects a lot of love, empathy, and comfort to supplement along with the care aided by the mental health professionals.

Here you play an important role for your own care. Self-help becomes an important aspect of your life as the more you empower yourself to do things for yourself the better you are able to take care of the affected member of your family. With the current pandemic and the constant isolation and being at home all the time people have usually described as being living in a pressure cooker as everything happens there, your work, your personal life and the very comfort one seeks from home is dispersed with many added responsibilities. Being at home all the time also happens to draw a lot of attention to the problems we have in our relationship, also pay more attention to the amount of time you engage in taking care of a sick family member. This along with the current environmental stressor makes dealing with the situation more difficult for people to deal with it now that they are experiencing it. The main thing is that caregivers have this huge emotional impact that snowballs over the time period. The stress is usually left unchecked and that takes a toll on domains of your own personal health, it affects your interpersonal relationship with others, and also your current state of mind. This in usually termed as caregiver burnout, a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. As a caregiver it is important to know when you reach this stage as in this you are not the only one involved but this affects both you and the person you are caring for.It is often commonly noted that care givers usually come across with challenges that often get worse with time. Mainly statements like “I don’t feel happy anymore” “I feel that I have lost the happiness I had and I don’t feel like myself.” There is a loss of satisfaction with social life. There is also a loss of an exercised routine in daily life. The exhaustion often leads them to neglect self care. There are often mixed feelings associated with caregiving, while some feel pleased with the responsibility of being in support and being available at times of need for the loved one, many times they wish things were different and feel sorry as they sometimes feel responsible for the illness of the loved one. There are also times they feel afraid of making important decisions as there is a constant need to take critical decisions.

The extent to which the caregivers cope highly depends on the level of caretaker responsibility. Almost every caregiver suggests they wish they had someone to look after them. They wish they had some alone time to do what they like and focus on themselves for a while. Usually this has lead to ways of unhealthy coping, mostly to bottle up and hold feelings inside.

The common signs of caregiver stress are

  • Feelings of Irritability
  • Feeling tired
  • Facing difficulties with sleep
  • Having newly arising lifestyle related health issues
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Engaging in smoking or relying on other substances
  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Cutting back on social interaction and leisure activities

While the sign of caregiver stress are different from signs of burnout; these may be

  • Having less energy than usual
  • Extreme exhaustion even after taking rest or a break
  • Neglecting own self care needs
  • Not being able to relax even in presence of help
  • Increased levels of anger for the person you are taking care
  • Feeling of being helpless
  • Becoming a Better Self Advocate
  • Caring for a loved one will although never be stress free but a few strategies can help lessen the hardships and avoid burnout. These strategies can help you bring about a balance in your life.

Feeling Empowered
The feeling of being powerless is the highest contributor to fell stuck and become helpless. Although the role makes you feel helpless you are not powerless. You can always seek assistance to give yourself some time to take care of yourself and instill a feeling of hope.

Practicing Acceptance
We often are stuck with the question of “Why?” Instead of dwelling surplus energy on questioning things you cannot change rather embrace this time to make deep meaning full motivations for yourself to help sustain yourself at times of difficulties.

Look for the benefits
Care giving makes you a stronger individual and also helps you be closer to the person you are taking care of

Embrace yourself
Invest in activities that give you meaning and purpose in life. It can be as simple as taking some time out to engage yourself in a favourite hobby. It is important to not let care giving overpower your entire existence. Find out ways to pamper yourself.

Using Problem Solving Strategies
Instead of dwelling on things which are not under our control, the focus must shift towards problem-solving strategies.

Celebrate small victories
Keep reminding yourself that your efforts matter. You are making your loved one feel safe and comfortable. Never underestimate your efforts. Try to reward yourself for your efforts. Use some positive reinforcements to help make you feel better.

Speak up
You need to share how you are feeling. Be open about your concerns and thoughts to improve the situation and express them, even if you feel uncertain about how they will be received. It is important to communicate.

Take Frequent Breaks
Take regular time outs t destress yourself. A break would help you feel more focussed and energetic giving you more time to relax later. Try to maintain personal relationships, Use journaling methods to express your feelings, prioritize your hobbies. Try to find humour in everyday situations, watch a movie or call a friend that makes you happy.
The key aspect to deal with this burnout is to realise that handling illness is difficult and also address that it may make communications difficult. It is highly beneficial to exercise patience. There are times when certain things are said and done by the sick patient like showing excessive anger; at such times trying to not take things personally by trying to step away from the situation is the best possible thing one can practice. Humour is a great source to ease stressful times. Talking to other caregivers who understand helps to connect with people going with similar stressors and increases the resilience to handle stress more effectively. To avoid times of passive aggression towards the ill family member it becomes necessary to initiate different modes to communicate by expressing love by a simple act of a hug.

Take care of your own health
Aim for a minimum 30 minute exercise session. It works as a powerful tool to release stress and also helps to fight fatigue. Make it a daily routine to practice meditation to boost subjective well being. Yoga is also a beneficial activity to relax both physically and mentally. Replenish your body with healthy food. Keeping a balanced diet fuels you up with steady energy making you more effective. Avoid cutting back on your sleep time. Lack of sleep will only cause you to feel more irritable, making it difficult to handle daily stressors effectively.Look for caregiver support groups
Support groups help you to connect with people undergoing similar stressors. A support group will not only help you to get help but you will also be able to help others and most importantly feel that you are not alone. Try to talk, listen and help others like you to feel a sense of belongingness.

When to seek professional help?
One needs to recognise these signs of caregiver stress and burnout. This will help you to take immediate action and improve the situation making it beneficial for both you and the person you are caring for. When you experience these above mentioned signs for two weeks or more it is best suited to address the levels of stress and burnout, without the hesitance to reach out to a mental health professional. Care giving is an art, so be your own self advocate, take good care of yourself so that you can be a stronger support for your loved ones. Enjoy the rewards of care giving. Lastly take care of yourself and support your loved ones for as it is beautifully said “When I becomes we even illness becomes Wellness”

About the Author

Deekshaa Athwani
Consultant Clinical Psychologist.

I'm author of the article "Caregiver first aid: Become a better self advocate"

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