Why self-care is essential for caregivers

Imagine that you’re on a plane, and it starts gaining altitude, and the oxygen levels start dropping. What do you do? The first thing to do would be putting on your oxygen mask before helping anyone else. The same principle applies when it comes to caretaking. Self-care is essential to refill our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy. Selfcare helps build resilience within ourselves, which helps us provide better care to others.

Who are caregivers? 

A caregiver is a person who helps with the daily activities of a patient/an individual. Here, we’ll be talking about someone who is taken care of by a family member or friend rather than a paid professional. The role of patient caregivers includes informing Doctors and Nutritionists about any problems faced by the patient, trying to keep other family members and friends informed of what’s happening, helping to decide whether a treatment is working, including other necessary activities such as bathing and bathroom functions, feeding, grooming, taking medications, housework, etc. These roles change as the needs change during and after treatment, or as per the situation arises. Caregivers have a considerable influence, both positive and negative on how the patient deals with their illness. Their motivation and encouragement can help the patient to maintain the treatment plan and to eat healthy meals or get enough rest.

But these caregivers should also take their health and safety into consideration because they are themselves at risk psychological stress and impaired health behaviours, which stimulate physiologic responses resulting in illness and mortality. These issues could affect the quality of life of both the caregivers as well as those receiving care. Caregivers play an essential role in the wellbeing of others, and they must stay safe and healthy to provide quality, long-term care. 

Here are some risks that caregivers usually face:

  • Studies report that 40-70% of caregivers experience symptoms of clinical depression. 
  • 26% of caregivers say that caregiving affects them emotionally. Caregiving is associated with lower levels of self-esteem, constant worry, sadness and uncertainty.
  • Caregivers always need to be vigilant about their surroundings for potential hazards, like disease-causing bacteria, so that it doesn’t infect them or their vulnerable patients.
  • Caregivers have an increased rate of physical ailments such as acid reflux, headaches, joint pain and diminished immune response.
  • They have increased chances of heart diseases due to lowered immune response. 

If these risks are not managed on time, then it’s associated with an array of adverse outcomes, including anger, which suggests the risk of harmful behaviour toward the care recipient (Macneil et al., 2010). Immediate family caregivers reported increased caregiver stress, depression, and sadness compared to non-immediate family caregivers. Reasons for this difference might include family members feeling enormous guilt over the decision to seek LTC, grief related to loss of the loved ones’ ability for self-care or failure of their caregiving role (Paulson et al.2011)This negative energy will pass on to the patients.

Here are some tips to make sure that you take good care of yourself:

  • Allow friends and family to help.
  • Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes.
  • Limit work hours to prevent fatigue and make sure you eat well.
  • Wash your hands regularly and wear personal protective gear, such as mask and gowns to prevent contact with illness-causing germs.
  • Caregivers need to visit doctors for regular checkups.
  • In times of exhaustion or stress, a change in appetite will help to boost your mood and energy, like eating nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, beans and lentils, berries, banana, oats, fermented food like curd and fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna.

Taking care of yourself helps you take care of others better and improves the quality of life for both you and the person you’re looking after.

Written by:
Rosy Sarkar
Paediatric Onco Nutritionist
Cuddles Foundation

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