As we talk about the distress that patients with chronic illnesses experience, what is often left out is the impact that such a condition can have on caregivers – the family or friends that stand by as pillars of strength and support in these challenging times. Looking after a loved one with an illness may require a caregiver to make changes in their own personal or professional routines. Along with the worry that may accompany such diagnoses, caregivers may also tend to experience emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, loneliness or guilt. This caregiver burden becomes heavier as people neglect their own emotional and physical well-being to tend to the illness of another over prolonged periods of time. What we must remember, however, is that the health and well-being of the caregiver too is essential for the well-being of the patient.
1) Be compassionate to yourself – Having negative feelings such as anger or frustration are a normal part of the looking after someone. This doesn’t make one a bad caregiver. Accept these feelings as part of the journey and be compassionate towards yourself.
2) Take some time out to do things that you like doing – It’s easy to lose ourselves in looking after another, and many a time one may experience guilt when doing things for ourselves when a loved one is in distress. However, remember that it’s important to carve out some time to care for your own self, to also be able to give that care to another.
3) Look after your physical health – Sleep and appetite are often the first to get compromised when caring for a patient. Ensure that you eat regular, healthy meals and get adequate rest to prepare yourself for what the day brings.
4) Acknowledge your efforts – There’s a lot that is not in our control when it comes to physical health. Your loved one’s condition may deteriorate with time, despite your best efforts. It’s important to accept limitations and set realistic expectations of yourself. Take a moment to value the efforts that you are putting in, and acknowledge the sense of meaning and purpose it brings.
5) Reach out for help – It’s not always possible for one person to manage their own affairs while also caring for all the needs of another. It’s here that friends, family and the community can help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or defeat. Openly share your feelings and your needs – having some support can offer you the respite to recharge yourself.
6) Join a support group – People in your immediate circle may not always be able to understand or empathise with the challenges you’re experiencing. At times, speaking to others, who are in the midst of a similar situation can actually provide some much-needed support. If possible, do join a support group, which will give you the opportunity to share your experiences, learn from others who’ve been on this journey, and build meaningful bonds to support each other during these difficult times.
7) List your goals – Break large tasks into smaller steps and chart out a daily routine with slotted tasks. And do not commit yourself to things which are over and above your capacity.