Caregiving is the act of rendering care and help to people who need support for survival. What makes caregiving different from casual helping is that caregiving comes from a place of responsibility and accountability. It is morally rewarding and naturally consuming. When you know that someone’s well being is dependent upon your sincerity and dedication, you place more expectations on yourself than required.
According to FCA in America, 44 million people provide caregiving without earning any money. Usually, family members, friends, or relatives assume this role. Caregiving can take a toll on the mind of the caregivers owing to the hopelessness of the situation. This leads to a condition called the caregiver burnout.
Why Does Caregiver Burnout Happen?
When you are a caregiver, you experience many stifling emotions that collide with each other. I recall an instance when my close friend, Betty, experienced a caregiver burnout. Her husband had Alzheimer’s and his condition was deteriorating every day. Unfortunately, Betty blamed herself for this and took the culpability of the unavoidable consequence on herself.
It made her feel void and depressed. She cut off from all of us for three years until she started taking therapy.
When caregivers put in everything for the needs of others, they expect improvements in the health of their patients. They experience the trauma of the patients with them. As patients lose their hold on hope, one strand at a time, they feel responsible for such an action. This is what is compassion fatigue.
What Is Compassion Fatigue?
Caregivers blaming themselves for any degradation in the patient’s conditions gives rise to compassion fatigue. Unfortunately, caregivers start assuming that they have power over the patient’s well being. When that doesn’t happen, they feel emotionally drained. This leads to caregiver stress.
Now, What Is Caregiver Stress?
The aggravating condition of the loved one along with the hopelessness causes the caregivers to feel morally guilty. This leads to a condition called caregiver stress. Unfortunately, caregivers refuse to acknowledge these symptoms and become unkind towards themselves.
This prolonged stress leads to caregiver burnout– a condition of depression and anxiety.
The patient’s health further deteriorates the caregiver’s mental well-being. It exhausts them of their energy. When you face a caregiver burnout, you might feel indignant at the patient as well. As a result, you begin to condemn yourself for being a bad person.
The financial, economic, and social factors further add to the trauma of the caregivers. Caregivers have their emotional baggage which they cannot abandon as they encounter challenges in their social reality. The condition is more tensed for those who are from economically weaker sections or rural areas. The burden of the expense might impede their hope for a better future.
Believe me, when I say that it is not you who is to be blamed but the condition of caregiver burnout which causes such feelings.
Symptoms of a Caregiver Burnout
If you know a caregiver who might be facing compassion fatigue, it is your social responsibility to help them recognize their problem. If you are facing caregiver stress, it is time to get cautious. Caregiver stress leads to caregiver burnout, which is much more toxic to the mind and the body. Here is how you can recognize caregiver stress and a caregiver burnout respectively:
- You feel anxious and irritable even when your work for the day is done.
- You are unable to sleep at night. Even if you do, you do not feel relaxed.
- You feel angry at yourself and others for no rational reason.
- You do not like people continuously asking you about your well-being.
- You cut-down your communication partially or totally because you do not feel the energy to take up a conversation.
- You feel exhausted and are unable to express yourself entirely.
- Even when your patient is under the right supervision, you feel guilty of ignoring them by focussing on your general needs.
- You feel aggrieved at the patient. You expect your patient to accommodate your emotional baggage when you are aware that they cannot understand your needs owing to the despair that the disease has caused.
- You deny any care or love that comes your way. You abandon genuine concern of others and tag it as ‘sympathy’. You feel there is no possibility of help for caregivers.
- You do not have the emotional energy to get up from the bed and do your basic works such as cleaning, bathing, gyming, etc.
- You either sleep more than required or you have trouble sleeping.
- You have entirely sacrificed yourself for caregiving yet you do not feel satisfied or contended at the end of the day.
- You have given up doing stress-busting activities which made you feel better and happy. Such as reading, writing, working out, etc.
Help for caregivers
Here is how you can extend help for caregivers. If you are one yourself, keep reading. The first thing to think back to is that you have to be kind towards yourself. If you are unable to feel compassionate towards yourself, how will you render care to the one who needs your love at the moment?
Once you have convinced your mind about it, take the following tips:
- Go for therapy:
It is alright to take out time for yourself. Go and take group therapy with other caregivers so that you know that you are not alone in this.
- Accept the reality:
Do not make goals for your patient that you cannot fulfill. Be realistic and practical. Analyze their condition and try to spend a happy time with them. Accept the truth and flow with it.
- Embrace hope, not hopelessness:
Keep talking to the patient even if they are not in the condition to respond. If they show any improvement, celebrate them and let them know you both got this.
- You deserve care:
Remind yourself why you want to be a caregiver. Then, ask yourself what you would have expected from someone close who had made this brave choice? Would you like them to indulge themselves entirely to caregiving? No, right? Then do not do that for yourself.
It is a matter of disappointment that our society does not make caregivers feel valuable. Yet, remember that you are important for the entire community; not just as a caregiver but also as a human being who has made this choice. Demand help from others, reach out and do not go into this alone if you do not want to. Nurturers are those who know how to handle the seasons of life.