Overcoming caregiver burden
A person affected by a mental or a chronic physical illness needs timely family support to recover from the condition and to live with any disabilities. Caring for your loved one can be rewarding, but it can also pose several challenges to the family members. Apart from health care professionals, the family members, living with the individual are the prime caregivers who actively provide constant support and supervision. The affected person may suffer from physical or intellectual limitations or behavioral disturbances leading to impaired day to day functioning in their occupational, social or personal life. The burden of care-giving can cause significant distress and interference in the caregivers’ personal and social life, apart from causing financial stress. This can negatively impact the physical and psychological health of the caregiver.
Experiences of guilt, shame, self-blame are very common, especially with severe mental illnesses where stigma is very commonly faced in the society, even today. Some of the common symptoms of stress that the caregivers can show are:
• Irritability, anger outbursts, exhaustion, easy fatigability
• Loss of interest in otherwise pleasurable activities
• Anxiety or feeling overwhelmed
• Reduced or excessive sleep
• Change in appetite or weight
• Abusing drugs like alcohol or prescription medicines
You can reduce or manage distress by:
• Seeking support and help. It is advisable not to shoulder all the responsibility of care by yourself and don’t hesitate to ask for help. If someone else is offering to take up a part of the responsibility, accept it.
• Be aware. Talk to the treating doctor to seek as much information about the disease as possible, to better understand what your loved one is going through. For example, understanding that the individual is being stubborn because of the voices he/she is able to hear, would help relieve your frustration of having to deal with these behaviors.
• Set realistic goals for yourself. Having to do a large task by yourself can be overwhelming. Break them into smaller tasks and prioritize the most important one to complete the work more efficiently. Use calendars and to-do lists to get more organized.
• Take care of yourself. Make sure you have your meals in time and get adequate sleep. Be physically active and try to include exercise into your daily routine.
• Leisure time. Make time for activities you enjoy like listening to music, reading or going for an outing.
• Find out about support groups near your locality and join them. Seek support from co-workers and friends who are in a similar situation. Talking to people who are undergoing similar problems can be supportive and encouraging.
• Be assertive. One cannot possibly do everything by themselves. Don’t take on more work than you can manage. If you are being asked to do more than you can handle, explain why you cannot do it and politely say no.
• Seek professional help. Don’t hesitate to tell your doctor if there are any symptoms or problems you are facing. Individual counseling sessions and support groups can help alleviate stress significantly.