With experts claiming that our wonderfully diverse nation, India, may have surpassed the population of China to become the most populous country in the world, it is no news that her aging population is rising too. As of 2022, the population census and forecast trends that the government and other independent agencies undertake show that in the coming years, greying India will become one of our most critical concerns. As per the 2011 census, the number of old citizens in India is 104 million which is projected to more than double by 2036 and quadruple by 2061.
With an aging population, the needs of older people and thus, caregiving as a profession will rise in tandem. A caregiver is an individual who provides help to another person in need- be it a family member, an aged relative, or a child with special needs. We also have professional institutes and individuals who provide this service and are recognized as caregivers officially, however, people who do it for their family member or out of the goodwill of their heart do not recognize themselves as caregivers.
Understanding the Caregiver Stress or Burnout Syndrome
Helping someone who is ailing can be a rewarding experience, especially when you do it for someone you love. But over time, it can become a tedious and stressful task. You may feel certain emotions such that of being sad, lonely, or exhausted. It can also have consequences on your physical and/or emotional health. This is known as Caregiver Stress or Caregiver Burnout, and it is very much real.
As per psychologists, it is “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress”, and one shouldn’t neglect it. Even before reaching the point of exhaustion or burnout and by the time a caregiver realizes their condition, they may have been suffering from a few symptoms of their condition.
There are many reasons why a caregiver may feel this duress, a few common ones are as follows:
Neglecting their own physical, mental, or emotional health and needs which can even make them sick.
Not asking for help when required.
Some caretakers can end up making unreasonable demands on their caregivers.
Feeling guilty for investing time in themselves.
Financial stress and lack of requisite resources can also make a caregiver feel frustrated, especially if the caregiver is a family member/relative and is not getting paid.
There can be a scenario where it can be difficult for a caregiver to separate their duties in their respective personal & professional roles.
When treating patients suffering from gradually deteriorating conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, a caregiver may feel a loss of hope when their patients don’t get better.
Recognizing Caregiver Stress Syndrome
Any or most of these reasons can eventually affect the caregiver’s intention and ability to provide adequate care and support. When neglecting their own needs and health, be it emotional or physical, caregivers not only end up affecting their lives but also the life of their patient(s). While stress is an unsaid symptom of caregiver fatigue, there are many more such telltale signs to recognize the same.
Let’s look at the following signs of caregiver stress:
Change or loss of appetite, eating habits.
Feeling a sense of fatigue.
Change or loss of weight.
Loss of interest in activities erstwhile enjoyed.
Retreating from near and dear ones.
Physical or emotional weariness.
Wanting to do self-harm.
Getting head or stomach aches and feeling sick more often.
Having negative feelings of irritation, hopelessness, and impatience.
Feeling overwhelmed or anxious with little changes.
Insomnia or hypersomnia.
Depression or random mood swings.
Dealing with Caregiver Burnout
It is not easy to take care of someone when a person is having a tough time dealing with their own emotions and condition. Hence, it is imperative that a caregiver or their family or friends around them are also cognizant of this condition and its stressors and provide help. Let us also look at some ways one can prevent and deal with this condition:
Be honest with yourself: If you feel you are stretching yourself thin beyond your limits, acknowledge it and take the necessary steps. Don’t be too hard on yourself for feeling emotions about your responsibilities or your patient(s) that can be perceived as negative, such as being angry or frustrated. It does not make you a bad human or even bad at your job. It is okay to not be okay and that goes for patients and caregivers alike.
Indulge in some self-care: Just because your job is to care for someone else, it does not translate to you not caring for your own self when required. Don’t feel guilty for feeling that you may need a break from time to time. This also means that you eat well, rest properly, and exercise regularly. It also means you can go eat out, shop, draw yourself a long, nice bath, and indulge in some pampering. Again, you can only take good care of others when you take proper care of yourself. So, remember that it is a necessity, not a luxury.
Talk it out: It is the easiest and cheapest way! Don’t shy away from expressing your emotions to someone around you whom you can trust. If nothing else, it will at least make you feel lighter.
Talk some more: If you feel your situation requires a professional opinion, consult a therapist, and seek the appropriate guidance that will help you deal with your situation so you can do your job better.
Join a support group: Oftentimes, talking to others who may be going through the same issues as you can ease one’s mind. Such affinity groups can help people cope with their own condition well, making them feel less lonely and hopeful.
Ask for help: It is not easy to do everything on your own, so be open to asking for and accepting any help provided to you. You can always take a break, deal with your concern, and then come back to your patient(s) This way, you are doing justice to both yourself and them.
Take help from a professional: In case you are one of those unofficial-on-papers caregivers, take advantage of a professional service provider that can provide you respite at your convenience and timeframe.
Know when it is time to shift gears: If your patient is suffering from any of the progressive diseases, there may come a time when they need more care than you may be able to provide in your capacity. So, consider a full-time nursing aid, nursing home, or any such service that will ease and share your load.
Family-leave benefits: Again, if you are one of those unofficial caregivers, you can always check with your organization’s HR for their family-leave benefit policies. If they don’t exist, in some cases, exceptions and workarounds can be managed, which can prove to be of help to you.
So, now you know what Caregiver Syndrome- be it in the form of stress, burnout, or fatigue- is. We have also gone over its indicatory signs and prognostic. If you are a caregiver, go easy on yourself. Your job is demanding and if you don’t feed yourself with happy and positive thoughts, you may see yourself recognizing more and more signs of caregiver stress. You also require care. If you know someone who is a caregiver, be mindful of the stress they may be going through and be on the lookout for the aforementioned signs and offer any kind of help you can.