Emotional first aid to relieve family caregiver overload

Caring for a dependent person involves a great physical and emotional effort. Sometimes the initial expectations about care do not coincide with reality, since it is common to think that "we can handle anything", and that with affection we can cope with any situation, but the truth is that when a person depends on us it involves a wear and tear that affects health, social and family relationships and the economy itself.

We speak of caregiver overload when the caregiver suffers a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, derived from the caregiving tasks after a long period of time.

How does it manifest itself?

At the physical level:

  • Feeling of constant tiredness
  • Sleep disturbances, difficulty in falling asleep, continuous awakenings...
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained discomfort or pain

At the psychological level:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss

At the social level:

  • Lack of interest in previously pursued hobbies/activities
  • Distancing from friends/relatives
  • Family conflicts
  • Isolation
  • Soledad

What can we do?

  • To be informed about the disease, symptoms, own behaviors, evolution of this one. All this will help to understand the reason for certain reactions, facilitating care. It is also important to know what social, medical or material resources/help is available.
  • Recognize our feelings, name them, normalize them and share them. This helps to manage them in a positive way.
  • Be aware of our limitations, delegate and share tasks whenever possible with other family members or through professional caregivers. Asking for help is not a symptom of weakness, do not be shy to ask for it, support groups or associations are very beneficial and promote self-care and social relationships.
  • Maintain an adequate diet, avoid fast food, plan balanced schedules and menus, it is preferable to adapt to the schedule and meals of the caregiver than to skip our own. It is common to prepare detailed menus for the cared person and end up eating a snack of whatever, or worse, not eating at all.
  • Rest enough hours, sometimes it is not possible due to the caregiving tasks themselves, but you can look for 15-30 minutes a day to perform relaxation/meditation exercises.
  • Physical exercise promotes rest, improves mood and reduces stress. It is not necessary to practice high-impact sports, the very fact of going for a half-hour walk every day already brings health benefits.
  • Dedicate time, if it is not possible on a daily basis, mark certain days a week to maintain or resume hobbies. It is important to distinguish and separate the obligations we may have in our role as caregiver from our own needs, without feeling guilty about it.
  • Avoid isolation, maintain social relationships. Whenever possible, it is beneficial to leave the home to physically disconnect from the environment. Activities such as going to the cinema or theater help to distract and avoid having the focus of our thoughts centered on the caregiver. Similarly, meeting a friend for a coffee and a chat allows us to let off steam and is therapeutic in itself. Nowadays we have different forms of communication such as video calls or the use of WhatsApp that allow us to maintain social relationships in situations where we cannot physically separate ourselves from the cared-for person.
  • Seek help from specialized professional services: home help service, day centers, telecare, home chiropodist, home nursing, home meal services, etc.

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