Edward Albert once said, ‘The simple act of caring is heroic’.
Caregivers are unsung heroes who seldom wear capes. A caregiver helps another person with their personal and medical needs. They don't get paid like healthcare workers and usually have a strong personal connection with the person they're taking care of.
Usually, it is a family member who cares for a chronically ill, disabled, challenged or differently abled person in their family. Caregivers often place the recipient's well-being above their own and shower an incredible amount of love on the recipient. Over time, however, the process can be draining and mentally exhausting.
When a caregiver is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted from taking care of a loved one, they may start experiencing caregiver burnout. They try to balance their regular work or home duties with caregiving responsibilities, and sometimes, they end up burning the candle on both ends.
Most caregivers experience burnout at some point, especially if they do not make a conscious effort to prevent it. But, if burnout is left unaddressed, it can have adverse consequences for everyone involved. P. Gerain, a Belgian Psychologist, has studied caregiver burnout extensively. He reports the association of caregiver burnout with depression and potentially violent behavior.
There are a myriad of factors that can contribute to caregiver burnout. It is usually not one specific inciting factor but many things that compound to cause burnout.
Many recipients of home care have medical conditions with dire consequences and marginal improvement. Caregivers often hope that their involvement and love will have a positive impact on the patient’s health. Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, advanced malignancies, or Parkinson’s disease in adults aged 65 or older can cause progressive deterioration despite exceptional home care services, and family caregivers may feel helpless in this situation.
Caregivers place an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to ensure the well-being of the care recipient. Taking even a day off causes them immense guilt, for they worry for the well being of the care recipient. Sometimes, other friends and family members may place an added stress on the primary caregiver, especially if the patient gets sick.
Many caregivers are thrust into the role without adequate preparation. Caregiving, over a period of time, is a very emotionally and physically demanding and a draining role. Understanding what it entails with the help of physicians, therapists, and other caregivers puts them in a better position to handle what comes their way.
Learning to recognize the symptoms of caregiver burnout early on is essential to taking steps towards preventing it from becoming worse. Some common signs of burnout are –
Following the age-old adage, ‘Prevention is better than cure’, the best way to address caregiver burnout is to avoid it in the first place. There are a few things caregivers and their support systems can try to get ahead of the curve and prevent burnout.
Caregivers have a massive burden that they often shoulder alone. Having someone to confide in can help them take a load off and get a fresh perspective. Whether it is a relative, friend, or therapist – the key variable is trust. The caregiver must be able to trust their confidante entirely to share their feelings.
Understanding that people with terminal diseases might only have marginal improvement, if any, is challenging for a loved one. But it is a physician's responsibility to establish realistic goals of care. Additionally, one can get help from support groups, religious congregations, local organizations, and nursing homes.
It is essential to realize that you need time for yourself. Most caregivers get engulfed in the process making it easy to forget, to care for themselves. Taking time off for yourself is not a luxury but a necessity. Set aside an hour or two a day to read, work out, watch TV, and recharge your mind. Also, ensure that you get to take at least a day a week off when someone else can look after the care recipient.
Please try to understand that to provide care, you need to have a solid footing. Remember the analogy of an aircraft oxygen mask - we are instructed to put our mask on before trying to help others. Same applies to care giving. Put yourself first. You should not feel guilty for caring for yourself. Instead, self care should be seen as an investment in yourself so that you are able to continue to provide effective care for an extended period.
Physical health is in tandem with mental health. Exercising regularly, avoiding excessive smoking and alcohol use, ensuring a balanced diet, and having a routine to stay healthy can improve mental health problems. Ensuring at least 7-8 hours of sleep can also improve energy and productivity.
Communicate your feelings with the care recipient and others involved. Set expectations clearly and ask for help when you need it. Start a friends and family WhatsApp group or conference call and try to involve others in the day-to-day, as well as the big decisions. Communicate regularly with the care recipient as well, to make them understand when you need respite and time off. Try not to take everything upon yourself. Try to delegate caregiving task or other tasks that can be delegated.
Respite care is short-term care provided by an external institution for the aged, incapacitated, challenged or differently abled person, children, etc., so that the primary caregiver can have a temporary break. There are several types of respite care, from in-home nursing care for a few hours to assisted living facilities. Try to avail the services if needed.
Caregiving is a team sport. Try to get as many friends and family involved in the process. While there is usually one primary caregiver, they do not have to be the only one. You can divide tasks between family members or friends, like buying groceries, daily exercise or administering medication. Try to join a support group for caregivers to speak to like-minded individuals. You can learn from other people’s lived experience. The power of community is often underestimated, but it can definitely put you at ease. There are plenty of local and online support groups where you will not only get help, you can also help others.
In conclusion, addressing caregiver burnout involves a change in mindset, allowing yourself to take time off, and seeking necessary support. Putting yourself first doesn't mean you care about your loved one any less. It means you are smart enough to know that you cannot help others if you don’t help yourself first.
At Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy Services, we are Social Workers registered with the OCSWSSW. We have 25+ years of experience in supporting people experiencing grief & bereavement, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, low self-esteem, stress, relationship issues and other mental health challenges. We do not require any referrals and are always welcoming new clients.
If you are looking for therapists near you in Toronto, Bloom Clinical Care is located at 1200 Markham Road, Suite 306C, M1H 3C3. We also offer virtual therapy options by phone or video call across Ontario. Help is available, and we may be able to help
Let us help you, help yourself.