Taking care of others, especially while battling the current coronavirus pandemic, can put a strain on the most resilient. You may find yourself in a feud with caregiver stress, a condition caused by the emotional and physical pressures of caregiving. Flair sat down with psychiatrist Dr Kristen Robinson-Barrett to zoom in on the condition that’s also referred to as caregiver distress or burnout. But first, who is a caregiver?
This is anyone who provides care for another person in need, like a child, the elderly, a husband or wife, a relative, a friend, or a neighbour.
“Caregiver stress is quite common in Jamaica, though we do not know the exact prevalence. US statistics suggest 40 per cent of caregivers are emotionally stressed. It can occur in anyone who is the primary carer of an individual with a chronic illness, particularly those which lead to physical and mental impairment, thus requiring significant assistance in their daily activities,” the doctor explained.
The psychiatrist explained that caring for loved ones with certain chronic mental illnesses, including elderly patients with dementia, can become overwhelming. That’s especially if the appropriate support and resources are absent.
WHO GETS CAREGIVER STRESS?
Anyone can become a victim of caregiver stress. However, women are twice as likely to become depressed and plagued with anxiety brought on by caregiver stress. In fact, there are risk factors that make one more vulnerable to the problem. These include being a woman; lacking support– either support is not available or the individual prefers not to ask for help – lack of resources; and having a chronic illness and caring for a loved one, particularly a spouse, with dementia.
“Persons suffering from caregiver stress may experience certain emotional signs and symptoms. These include feeling nervous or worried, irritability, sadness, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, feeling tired or fatigued, losing interest in things, withdrawing from people, neglecting your personal needs, and sometimes losing empathy for the person you are caring for,” Robinson-Barrett explained.
It’s important that persons who are or think that they are battling caregiver stress seek help. This is especially since it may result in body aches, headaches, loss of appetite, poor sleep, weakness and fatigue, and more frequent infections because of a weakened immune system. Plus, caregivers with chronic illnesses are at greater risk of succumbing to them.
Your healthcare provider should be your first option for assistance. Robinson-Barrett says it could be a general practitioner or mental-health expert. She also recommends self-assessment tests that can be done online and seeking assistance from family, friends, and agencies. This is so they can take a break and focus on self-care. This helps to prevent burnout.
Since anyone can get caregiver stress, you should try to prevent it. The doctor recommends the following steps.
- Reduce the pressure and expectations placed on yourself, and get a trusted individual to share your feelings with.
- Get help in any form in which it is available, and make use of agencies or respite care, if possible.
- Ensure consistent time for self-care, including developing coping skills and tools for relaxation.
- Set boundaries on what you provide, and accept feelings of frustration that may come.
- Eating well and exercising are also helpful.
- Engage mental-health professionals early, and seek support groups for caregivers.
Story by Rocheda Bartley