Anxiety is a common phenomenon that occurs in response to stress which can manifest physically too. Everyone responds in his/her own way to stress and while a few are able to recognize its impact, many are not. Identifying stress and preparing an appropriate response helps in coping with it. Many a times life give us a stress and anxiety causing events and one of them is the diagnosis of a serious health condition for a loved one.
When someone in the family suffers from any chronic condition, it impacts the entire family particularly the primary caregiver. Confirmation of a medical condition is followed immediately by stress. It brings many unexpected and unwelcome changes in the life of the patient and the people who care for them. Caregivers (nearly 4 of 5) have to undergo a lot of stress, anxiety and isolation through the strenuous efforts while taking care of their loved ones who suffer from chronic health conditions.
A lot of caregivers strive to be perfect in their caregiving job by being selfless and they don’t want to leave any stone unturned to care for their loved one. This striving for perfection impacts their mental and emotional well-being as it is natural to get stressed if there is little or no improvement in health of the patient.
With so much of stress within the caregiver and around them, their body starts responding in a certain way and in some cases manifests in the form of physical changes. Research data reveals that over a period of time,anxiety shows in some form of physical discomfort. It may be digestive problems, headaches, body pain and a tremendous amount of weight gain/ loss. So, before it is too late and permanent damage caused, caregivers must start taking care of their own well-being and addressing stress proactively. A healthy caregiver can always take care of their loved ones in a much better way.
Anxiety is created inside us whenever we fear the future and sometimes when we are fearful about something, which is unknown to us. Caregivers constantly worry about the health of the care receiver and thus, they are always anxious. This anxious attitude then gets into a vicious cycle by expanding to other aspects of caregiving and the caregiver’s other roles as a spouse, a parent or a professional.
Here are some common reasons that cause worry in a caregiver:
- Treatment results and side effects if any –for example, in case of chemotherapy
- Concern around another’s ability to take care of the patient in their absence.
- Degrading health of the care receiver and the prognosis
- Emotional trauma of a near-death situation or worry about the death of a care receiver
- Financial issues for the treatment and other related expenditures
Sometimes, the worry in the caregivers is too overwhelming. Carrying out routine activities at a normal pace can become challenging. If the caregivers find themselves irritated, fearful, cranky most of the times, they must understand that it’s anxiety which is consuming their energy.
What Can a Caregiver Detect Troublesome Anxiety?
Events like a message from a doctor, treatment results, appointment dates are all stressful as most of the time we don’t know what might happen. It may lead to shivers, mood swings, sweating, tears and many more, not necessarily immediately. In other instances, the impact of stress is less physical and can be seen in the caregiver’s interaction with others.Here are some pointers that will help one understand the impact of unresolved anxiety
- Insomnia which can lead to severe exhaustion or continuous irritation
- Recurring thoughts and nightmares on the treatment and health of the patient
- Looking for perfection all the time while performing any caregiving tasks
- Guilt about spending time on oneself
- Becoming isolated and anti-social, losing interest in activities one previously enjoyed –hobbies, sports etc.
- Increased sugar consumption or alcohol/smoking/medicines or a desire to start again
- Feeling depressed, helpless which in the worst cases, could result in developing suicidal thoughts
- Reduction of consistency in empathy – Resenting, Neglecting or mistreating the care recipient
- Inability to handle one or more problems or crises -wishing simply “to have the whole thing over with”
You can self-identify some more symptoms from here. If any 3 of the above are a part of changing behaviour patterns, then then it’s an orange alert to start focusing on their anxiety and the need to take care of them.
Bouncing back to Normal during Caregiving
Anxiety does a lot of harm to the body, mind and soul. Without feeling guilty, caregivers need to understand that rejuvenation is the key factor for delivering complete care to the loved one. No matter what condition the loved one is dealing with, all caregivers deserve a break to rejuvenate them.Caregivers must take out sometime in a day for the development of their holistic well-being- Read about all the elements of well-being and, watch this TED video on dealing with anxiety.
Caregivers need to plan and act to cope with anxiety:
Practice yoga and meditation
Yoga and meditation are a beautiful way of combining elements of physical, mental and spiritual well-being to reduce stress. Yoga helps keep the body relaxed and the mind more in control. Based on one’s body’s flexibility, caregivers can choose from many Aasanas to relax their body and have a peaceful connection with the mind.
Practising meditation every day helps relax and rejuvenate. Meditation is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety and fear of uncertainty. Read about the benefits and different types of meditation to help gain mental strength and deal with emotions better.
Eat & Sleep Well
The body needs healthy quantity and quality of nutrition to function effectively. Caregivers are always conscious of what their care receiver is eating, but tend to neglect their own diet. An appropriate diet that accounts for the different role is mandatory. Caregivers must include protein-rich foodstuff like nuts, milk/meat products along with healthy fats for better productivity and lesser stress. Food is a mood enhancer and three important foods to have during anxiety are cashewnuts, chocolate and banana for quick, anxiety relief.
Sleep is another crucial factor in maintaining the well-being of a caregiver. Shutting down all electronic devices at least one hour before and meditating before one goes to sleep can help get sound sleep. Caregivers should avoid having alcohol, caffeine or smoking as it can disrupt the sleep. Apply a drop of oil on your feet and massage it well to have a proper sleep. These little tricks help in getting a sound sleep which is must needed after a tiring day!
Hobbies and Engaging with the Care Receiver Caregivers should also divert their minds from their daily, often mundane caregiving tasks to enjoyable activities or hobbies. “Me-time”is essential and must be done without feeling selfish or guilty.Individual creative expression, irrespective of skills is helpful be it painting, music, dance or journaling as this helps release the stress hormones.Explore old hobbies or make new ones and spend at least 30 minutes a day religiously.
Health permitting, caregivers can plan engaging activities like playing board games or cards with the loved one. This will strengthen the bond and can add moments of happiness for both.. Spending time on hobbies can improve the home environment and also positively affect the mental state of both the care receiver and the caregiver. Caregivers can select activities which come with health benefits.
Socializing and Sharing
Most caregivers tend to cut off from social life making them lonely and depressed. Isolation is no solution! When caregivers connect to their social circles,they often realize that others admire and care for them which makes them feel better releasing stress hormones and boosting the immune system. Read more about the “Why” and “How” of socializing here.
Joining support groups allows caregivers to learn, share and socialize in a safe and non-judgemental environment.On exploring such groups, caregivers will be able to develop meaningful relationships with other caregivers as they begin to discover that they are not alone on the path of caregiving.
Mapping out and Seeking Support
Self-care for caregivers requires them to understand which of their family and friends can relied on for supporting caregiving. Health Affairs shares about the idea of caremapping for seeking support. This map is a visual representation of a patient’s health journey as across different healthcare providers, support groups, friends and relatives, workplace/school etc.
When the entire care map is ready, the caregivers begin to notice how there are people who can help them in a way they never imagined. This involves the community helping the patient to experience other people through community care. You can also use the Caregiver Saathi App to help organize and manage your tasks as well as allocate tasks.
Troublesome anxiety until acknowledged cannot be treated. Hence, one must always ensure that they are aware of whatever is happening with them. Start planning each day with conscious use of all these tools to address it.
About The Author
I always work on a belief that “Always be in action”. I am a M.Sc food
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