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6 Best Tips To Avoid Caregiver Burnout Especially For 1st Time Caregivers

39% of Indians became first time caregivers during COVID, putting the spotlight on caregiver stress that can lead to caregiver burnout.

Trigger Warning: This deals with long term, debilitating illnesses and the challenges of caregivers, caregiver burnout, and may be triggering for survivors or those currently suffering from these illnesses. 

This post acknowledges today, 21st September, as #WorldAlzheimersDay

(*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals)

*Devanshi rushed back home from work at 4pm by the clock. “We are going to be late,” she thought. It was time to take Mom for dialysis. Devanshi’s mom, 59-year-old *Meeta, was a kidney patient.

It happened three years ago. One evening Meeta, a diabetic with other health issues, collapsed in the kitchen, and life changed forever. Meeta was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, and would need dialysis three times a week for the rest of her life.

Life as Devanshi knew it changed forever

The duty of taking Meeta to dialysis fell on Devanshi, her 25-year-old daughter who had just started working at a public relations firm. Devanshi’s father had passed away many years ago, and thus she was in charge of her mother’s health and her home’s finances.

Although Devanshi took on life’s new challenges very positively and sincerely, the reality of being a caregiver soon changed her life forever. These were uncharted waters, and Devanshi found no help among her peers who were freshly into their jobs, and spent most of their time networking, partying and getting ahead in their careers.

Her mother’s dialysis would take about five to six hours each session, which ate up Devanshi’s work timings. Devanshi soon started performing shoddily at work and although her bosses were sympathetic to her home situation, they stopped giving her important presentations and projects.

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Watching her mother lying helpless, curled up on the hospital bed hooked on to tubes and machines every other day of the week, threw Devanshi’s mental health into a spiral and she went into a shell. Her mother had been a strong, loud, opinionated woman who had been the center of Devanshi’s life, but now she was weak in body, confused, and tired most of the times, the dialysis, although kept her alive, had made her body weak and fragile. She was now like a child, who needed constant care.

Devanshi soon started isolating herself, preferring to eat ice cream and watch Netflix at night, rather than hanging out with her friends as she used to.

She would wake up several times a night to watch over her mother. She started imagining what life would be like without her mother and carried a cloud of darkness descended over her. She had no energy to socialize or network, and started paying less attention to her work. She started to obsess over her mother’s health and neglecting her own.

But little did she know that she was also spiralling, going into caregiver burnout, a phenomenon commonly ignored, that wreaks havoc in the caregiver’s life.

4 in 10 Indians became first time caregivers during the pandemic

This is the story of every other household in India, there are about 39% caregivers in Indian homes after the pandemic, taking care of ailing relatives at all income brackets. That is four in ten Indians to put things in perspective.

Most Indians feel that taking care of an ill family member is part of the natural duties of being a son or daughter. Or, in case of parents, usually mothers of special children, towards our child.

Our strong dutiful family bonds are what makes us Indians. But you are also important, and must take care of yourself.

Caregiver stress is real

But caregiving is one of the most stressful jobs one can have, and we must take care of our own selves to when a family member is going through a health crisis.

Caregiver stress is a real thing and can affect your physical, mental and financial health. Caregivers regularly face adverse changes to their life and health.

Some risk factors for caregiver stress include

  • being female (more women become caregivers, either readily or because of social expectation that caregiving is women’s work),
  • having fewer years of formal education,
  • living with the person you are caring for,
  • isolation,
  • depression,
  • financial difficulties,
  • stress,
  • lack of coping skills and difficulty solving problems,
  • lack of choice in being a caregiver.

Signs of caregiver burnout

Prolonged caregiving stress can lead to caregiver burnout, and can debilitate you too, along with the loved one suffering from disease.

How do you know if you or someone else who is a caregiver is moving towards caregiver burnout? Here are some signs to look out for.

  • constant feelings of overwhelm,
  • excessive worrying about the patient and the future,
  • exhaustion,
  • insomnia or oversleeping,
  • gaining or losing too much weight,
  • being irritable or sad most of the time,
  • a feeling of “no one understands” and wanting to isolate,
  • losing interest in activities and hobbies,
  • having body aches and pains,
  • developing a tendency to abuse alcohol,
  • abuse of mind-altering substances, drugs and prescription medication to ‘’take the edge off.”

How to cope with caregiver burnout

Life of a caregiver is like a marathon race and not a sprint. One must tap into infinite reserves of patience, self care and strategies to cope with the strains and stresses of caregiving.

Here are some simple easy ways to ease your burden and lessen caregiver burnout –

Taking care of your physical health

The first priority for a caregiver is to take care of their own health. As they say on an airplane, to put your own mask first before helping others. This rule applies to the caregiver as well.

As a caregiver, you must take care of your physical health, by doing yoga, watching your diet, and getting regular check ups and being on top of your own health.

Even tiny amounts of consistent, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can help maintain your energy levels. Exercise helps you manage stress, maintain a healthy weight, and can help you maintain good blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Even if you only take a little stroll around your building, it can make a big difference in the long run.

Keep up with your own medical and dental check ups.

Taking care of your emotional health 

Watching a loved one slowly fading away is one of the most painful things one can go through as a caregiver. Watching their body waste away to cancer. Or a parent slowly forgetting you due to dementia or Alzheimer’s takes a toll on the caregiver’s mental health.

It is important to seek support at such times, and be vulnerable and open to help. It is okay to break down once in a while, it is okay to lean on others. But watch out for signs of depression, which is fairly common in long term care givers. It is okay to depend on friends and a therapist at such times. No matter how strong you think you are, caring for an ill family member can put a strain on even the most resilient person, so be aware of when your mood or mental health is starting to spiral and get help.

Go out and about – walking is wonderful!

If possible, at least once a week get out of the house to meet friends and do some activity for yourself. Take a class, a massage, salon, to meet a friend, meditate, visit a religious place, or just walk around the local park.

You won’t believe the wonders getting out of the house does to uplift your mood. Do not allow yourself to become isolated and think no one understands your situation.

Stay in touch with your personal interests for your mental wellbeing 

Being a caregiver involves getting a lot of down time when the patient sleeps or rests. It is very easy to slip into a spiral of depression or a worry spiral during the waiting hours.

Working, reading, staying connected with friends and the outside is crucial at such times to stay sane and grounded in reality. Don’t forget wholesome hobbies like cooking, crafting, needlework, playing a sport to bring some semblance of peace and happiness in your life.

Set realistic goals for yourself and the person cared for 

Set attainable and practical goals. Break down large duties to small steps. Keep priority lists, and a daily schedule. And don’t get pushed into social commitments that may take too much of your time.

Sign up for a support group

Make sure to snap out of the inevitable isolation, and join a support group.

Such groups can offer affirmation, inspiration, and techniques for dealing with challenging circumstances. Support group members can become life long friends, and can relate to what you might be going through.

Caregiving is hard, so take care of yourself too!

The life of a caregiver is unpredictable and full of ups and downs. Their moods often start relying on the ill relative’s state of health.

There are days when the caregiver is wrought with guilt and sadness if the ill family member’s health starts to deteriorate. Other days are spent numb and on autopilot, trying to get through the to-do list. Even the so called emotionally “lighter” days are gone through with a heavy heart.

Caregiver burnout is REAL, and the caregiver too needs our support and understanding at such times. So if you have a friend who is a caregiver, make sure to check up on them often and offer to do chores for them such as cleaning up their place, dropping off a fresh meal, offering them a ride somewhere, babysitting etc.

Even a small step can ease the invisible burdens caregivers carry.

Image source: toa55 from akaratwimages Free for Canva Pro

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