Caregiving is not merely a service, even if it is characterized by a set of actions. At its core, it is a deeply human interaction, which like any other, is rife with conflict as much as it is with concern, affection and care.
In most parts of the world, care work is invisible. Statistics for most countries are hard to come by, but according to the National Center on Caregiving approximately 13% of the American population provided unpaid care to an adult or child in 2015.
“Caregivers are often consumed with guilt, are exhausted and their needs are often delegitimized. They may feel like they have no space to talk about their needs. It is important that people around them see the caregiver as a person and not merely as an auxiliary to provide support,” Shreya Giria, a psychotherapist from Bengaluru, India told Re:Set.
Here are five ways in which you can take care of yourself as a caregiver, and avoid burnout:
Identify as a caregiver
“Acknowledge that, [as a caregiver] you need care. Acknowledge that you are a human being, and even though you may not be going through [what your care-receiver is], you have needs that you will need to take care of,” implored Giria.
Identifying as a caregiver helps one understand the role they are playing in another’s healing process, and the responsibility they have towards the receiver.
It is a common misconception that caregivers have to be professional nurses, therapists or full-time attendants, tending to those with diagnosed illnesses. This is not necessarily the case. A caregiver can be a devoted friend who often checks on someone and holds space for their growth, a volunteer who regularly shows up and immerses themselves in the environment that they hope to improve, or even a social worker involved in citizen advocacy and community organizing.
“If you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, stop and do whatever you must to address what you are feeling.”
“Care work is so broad. It is the combination of intending to address someone’s needs, but also a commitment to finding what is effective, making adjustments as needed, and receiving feedback. These things can be done with different skills and in different capacities,” explained Estelle Ellison, a writer based in the U.S., who explores caregiving as a form of community work and transformative justice.
Susanne White is an author and public speaker who runs Caregiver Warrior, an online resource and toolkit for caregivers. She writes from her personal experience of being a caregiver to various family members for over a decade. In her conversation with Re:Set, White shared: “HALT. If you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, stop and do whatever you must to address what you are feeling. Get rest, work through your anger in a healthy way, reach out to a friend, or eat something healthy.”
Don’t forget that even caregivers are allowed to have hobbies, make time for self-care and engage in social activities.
Deal with the guilt
Glenn Nishida has been a caregiver for his uncle, who lives with Alzheimer’s, for over five years. Speaking to Re:Set, he said, a dilemma caregivers often face is “feeling guilty about their own feelings. There is a lot of resentment, when taking care of a loved one, especially when your loved one is combative and seemingly unappreciative. This is a mantra that I live by — it is OK to get upset and yell, without guilt. For all we can do is our best.”
“This is a mantra that I live by — it is OK to get upset and yell, without guilt.”
Many caregivers report feeling guilty when they have emotional responses on the job such as breaking down when they’re overwhelmed or losing their cool and lashing out. This often leads to feeling like they are not doing enough or that they need to work on ‘fixing’ themselves first.
The general advice is to remind oneself that we are all doing our best, and there is no perfect way to do care work.
“Ask for help. You cannot do it alone. Caregiving takes a village,” emphasized White.
Nishida echoed this sentiment. He believes that accepting assistance is healthy and recommended people to look for an advocate: “Someone who you could call any time of the day or night, just to vent. If someone says to me, ‘Can I help you with anything?’ I answer, ‘Why yes! Could you please take uncle to the doctor on September 7th at 8:30 in the morning?’”
Be specific and accept help from those around you. Arranging for care is also a form of providing it.
Showing up for yourself and other caregivers
It is important to recognize the conflicting emotions that caregiving brings in yourself and others.
“Apathy from groups about [an individual’s healing process] makes people afraid of showing their wounds or vulnerabilities in group spaces. It results in individuals holding themselves back…even when they are around people who are or would be supportive of their healing,” Ellison told Re:Set.
Self-awareness is crucial to avoiding burnout, caregiving and accepting support when needed. In a community, creating an inclusive culture also means acknowledging that each person’s needs, goals and aspirations may be different, and that’s OK.
Online forums and in-person support groups in your neighborhood can offer caregivers a safe space to discuss and share the troubles and rewards of caregiving. It also helps caregiving become a more visible activity in the community. “We all have different stories, but the journey is the same. Reach out and share,” added White.