Who Cares for the Caregivers?

| 21/01/2009

Although we understand the concept of professional caregivers such as nurses and doctors, the majority of caregivers are either in your family, next door, at your church, or on the beach and do not wear a badge saying “I CARE”.

Caregivers are an important but often invisible part of our community. They can work long, unsociable hours, holidays, weekends, and sometimes nights, but get no pay and little recognition. If this sounds like you, then you’re probably a caregiver! Many of us do not see ourselves as caregivers straight away; we are parents, husbands, wives, partners, brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours. We may go to work then return home to look after our family after a busy day and are doing what anyone would; looking after a loved one or friend and helping them do the things they are unable to do for themselves. This could mean caring for an elderly or young person, someone with physical or mental challenges, or both!

There are many “unsung heroes” in today’s world and you could certainly agree that caregivers fit that bill. When a family member or loved one is in need, most caregivers take on that role willingly and would not trade it for any other job in the world, regardless of its extreme demands. Without a doubt, being a caregiver is a difficult job. Fortunately, it does deliver a few perks. Caregivers report that they feel a strong sense of purpose. They also enjoy the peace of mind knowing that they are making a difference in the life of a loved one.

Many times, attitudes and beliefs form personal barriers that stand in the way of caring for one’s self. Not taking care of yourself maybe a lifelong pattern, especially when taking care of others is an easier option. You’ll find that this barrier is often constructed of guilt, the guilt of feeling that you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient’s affection. The thought of being selfish if you put your needs first can also bring about feelings of guilt.

When you don’t takecare of yourself, it can have a negative effect on both your physical and mental health and usually in the form of stress. Stress is the response of our mind-body systems to some positive or negative external factor or event; for caregivers, stress is generally related to the emotional and physical strain of care giving. So how do you know when you’re under too much stress?

The signs and symptoms of stress can be physical; such as headaches, muscle tension, and digestive problems such as heartburn and nausea. They can also be mental in nature; such as feeling preoccupied, having difficulty listening, being forgetful, and finding yourself unable to concentrate. Stress can also effect your emotions and you may experience a depressed mood, you may feel more impatient and irritable than usual, you may have urges to cry, run or hide, and may even experience feelings of fear for no apparent or obvious reason.

In order to combat accumulated stress and to avoid becoming over-stressed, caregivers must learn to take some time to care for themselves. Finding time amid the hectic schedule of a caregiver may seem like an impossible task, but its important to take care of yourself in terms of getting enough sleep, eating well, being physically active, and taking time out to take deep cleansing breaths and a few moments of relaxation. Perhaps the most important aspect of caring for yourself as a caregiver is the development of a support system.

No matter how alone you may feel there are many others in the Cayman community who are living with similar circumstances. Find a “Support Buddy”, someone who may be in similar circumstances and can understand what you’re going through, maybe even start an informal support group which can be as simple as meeting a few other caregivers for coffee on a regular basis. There are also online support groups for those who are comfortable with this form of sharing. You may want to talk to a professional counsellor who can provide you with emotional support and help you to arrive at a realistic understanding of your strengths and limitations.

In order to be more beneficent and productive in all areas of life, caregivers need to feel energetic and have the overall feeling of wellbeing which can result from self care. Caring for yourself is one of the most important, and one of the most forgotten, things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.

Contact the Employee Assistance Programme at 949-9559 for a confidential appointment or more information about community resources.

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