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Mental Health 101 for Primary Caregivers

Mental Health 101 for Primary Caregivers

At some point in time, we find ourselves taking care of our loved ones, whether that be a child, elderly parent, or an individual with an illness. Whether it happens suddenly and unexpectedly or gradually, we become primary caregivers.

What is meant by primary caregivers?

A primary caregiver is an individual responsible for providing financial and logistic care to their loved ones on a day-to-day basis most of the time. The primary caregiver could be a spouse, children, or any other family member.

In India, we the family members provide care to our loved ones and it can be rewarding while caring for them but at the same time it also involves many stressors. And since caregiving is often a long-term challenge, the emotional impact can snowball over time and it impacts the caregiver’s wellbeing. Wondering how to know, if you have been impacted by caregiving? You would find it helpful if you can recognize the symptoms of distress in yourself, you can take immediate action to improve your wellbeing. 

What are the signs of stress that one needs to recognize being a caregiver?

Emotional changes

Whether you become a caregiver gradually or all of sudden due to a crisis, or whether you are a caregiver willingly or by default, many emotions surface when you take on the job of caregiving. Many feelings come up when you are caring for someone day in and day out. Feelings of ambivalence, anger, persistent sadness, anxiety, boredom, irritability, embarrassment, fear, and grief, are common that you can experience being the primary caregiver.

Physiological changes

You can experience feelings of fatigue, tiredness, weak immune system, hypertension, obesity, bodily pain, heart disease, and other significant physiological changes. These physiological changes are often impacted by the behavioural changes of the care recipient.

What happens if changes experienced during caregiving are ignored/ neglected?

If you don’t deal with the changes experienced by you due to caregiving, then it will impact your mental wellbeing. They will keep tugging at you until you stop and acknowledge them. Not paying attention to your feelings may lead to poor sleep, illness, trouble coping, stress eating, substance abuse, etc., and can hinder your ability to provide care, leading to higher health care costs and affecting the quality of life of both you and your loved one in need of care.  When you admit to your feelings, you can then find productive ways to express them and deal with them, so that you and the care receiver can cope better in the future.

How can you improve your own well-being?

It is essential for you to take care of yourself as a caregiver whilst taking care of your loved one, as only when we first help ourselves we can effectively help our loved one. To limit the challenges and ease frustration, here are a few tips that can help you with the caregiving journey:

  • Establish a routine for your loved one whilst also allowing some flexibility for some spontaneous activities.
  • Take care of yourself. It is important for you to recognize your own needs first. If you are experiencing burnout, you will not be able to effectively help the person in need of care.
  • Ask for help. Caregiving does not have to be solely your responsibility. Some caregivers have a difficult time asking for help from others, but getting support to share the responsibility can help you avoid caregiver burnout.
  • Be realistic about the illness and prognosis. Educate yourself and ask questions in order to be prepared for the reality of the illness.
  • Use respite care services. A wide range of services are available to give a break to caregivers and can last from a few hours to a few days. Informally, you can ask another family member or a friend to give you a break, avail formal respite services like Samvedna Care.
  • Seek support. You can talk with family, trustworthy friends, a support group, your pastor, or a mental health therapist. Having someone to share your feelings with can help ease the burden of caregiving.
  •  Join caregiver support groups as it gives a chance to share stories and ideas with other caregivers. Talking about one’s experiences can help relieve emotional burden, you can also seek professional caregiver counselling services.
  • Have nutritious food, take breaks and spend some time to keep up with your hobbies
  • Exercise regularly even if it is for 10 minutes a day or practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Watch out for signs of caregiver burden (such as loss of interest in activities, feeling hopelessness and helplessness, changes in sleep patterns, emotional and physical exhaustion, changes in appetite) and seek professional help from organisations like Samvedna Care which specialise in caregiver counselling.
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