Self-Care for People Who Care for Others
You know what happens when you experience a burnout without being aware of it? You are unable to help you, let alone your loved one. If you have a family of your own, they suffer tremendously as well.
This is why it’s of paramount importance to be aware of the risk. Awareness is the first step. Then you can look for an optimal solution that fits your particular situation, given all.
Nevertheless, it may feel overwhelming to think about yourself in those terms. Selfish, even. How can it not? There’s a human being whose life literally depends on your help, and detaching from the situation may feel like abandoning.
What we need is to explain the belief that lies behind such thinking. You might think of yourself in terms of being a bad person when actually, you’re just a human. And the ageing process in the elderly may be tremendously challenging: there’s MS, Alzheimer’s, stroke, cancer…
In all honesty, we need to put an asterisk to the definition of “altruistic- showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others”, were listed as antonyms are: “egocentric, self-centered” and so on. There’s a need to define the terms. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s an absolute necessity if we want to prevail.
There are several analogies cruising around the topic- one of the oxygen masks and having to put it on yourself first to be able to help your child, the other of an empty car not being able to go.
For obvious reasons.
Various research shows how people caring for others who stopped caring for themselves experience massive problems:
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety and depression, psycho-somatic pain in muscles
- Heart disease and related issues- high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart attack…
- Obesity and diabetes
Know-how: Caring for Yourself When Caring for Others
When faced with a crisis of any sort, you need to get out for a short break.
Psychology Today says that “Caregivers often feel stuck in “crisis mode”—dealing with one thing after another, always waiting to see what comes next. Breaking the cycle of constant urgency can allow for new routines.”
They go on to explain how it’s difficult to be there for others if you constantly feel shame, guilt, and fear of having your own needs.
20 minutes a day for yourself only will suffice for you to be even more productive with caregiving. They advise helpers to always prioritize, and shed the perfectionism- REAL IS IDEAL should be everyone’s motto, especially of those who have to take care of other people’s health, needs, life even, on top of their own…and possibly their family’s. It’s A LOT.
So, next time you need to do something other than immediate care, like decluttering the house, do just the bare minimum that makes it bearable for you.
And breathe. Deeply, from your belly. When you sense it’s too much for you, remove yourself from the situation and do this relaxing technique for some time. 10-5 deep breaths. See how it feels.
Basic and Beyond: Imperfectly but Consistently
You need to thrive in order to be able to be a good help. It means that just getting your basic needs met (to eat, hydrate, breathe, be warm and sleep well) won’t do the trick.
But I get that there’ll be plenty of situations where you wouldn’t be able to get those right, let alone others. Plan ahead.
Spare some time to decompress. It’s a life-savior. Journal, meditate, stretch your body. Turn off electronic devices, go inward, listen to yourself.
Express your emotions, don’t shut them off, they’ll come back haunting you.
One more big deal- learn to say “no”- whenever your gut feeling says so.
Challenges and Red Flags
You may be in situations where your loved one (or the person you are looking after) doesn’t recognize you anymore. Or that they suddenly stop walking or talking, or both. Or they act out, wander away…
All kinds of emotions arise, stress chips you away. The survivor’s guilt comes out- you feel terribly guilty for being the healthy one.
Now, what are the red flags regarding the caregiver’s health?
- You are exhausted and easily irritated
- You hide from friends
- You start drinking regularly
- You can’t concentrate
- You can’t do your day job
The article astutely named “Caregivers who Take Care of Their own Health Are More Effective at Caring for Others” recognizes the problem of nonprofessional caregivers to be growing. Namely, the Family Caregivers Act was passed, requiring from the Department of Health and Human Services to work on a strategy on a national level to recognize and protect caregivers.
On top of that, they add, “The American Medical Association also recognizes the strain of caregiving: Its 2018 guide for physicians includes a “Caring for the Caregiver” section, which encourages doctors to keep an eye on their patients’ caregivers as well as their patients to look for signs of caregiving burnout, which can negatively impact patient care.”
Physical and Psychological Aspects
- Get help. Whatever form. Talk about the issues, someone might have an idea that’ll work. Asking for help isn’t weak. On the contrary. It means you are aware of your own capacities. You are needed elsewhere as well- your own family, your partner, and most importantly, yourself. Get that help, alright?
- Next, try to stay connected with other people. It wards off your own depression. And gives you tremendous energy, too.
- Eat, sleep, hydrate, exercise (at least 5 Tibetans). These are basics.
- Have other people share your responsibility. List as many people as you can remember. It’s good to know there’s a plan B in case of your own emergency.
- Google other organizations and support groups that can help, such as The Alzheimer’s Association or National MS Society for your loved ones, or Well Spouse Association (“support for spousal caregivers”) and 365 tips for caregivers for you.
These are physical things. Here are some psychological angles to help build the whole picture.
- You need to have a better relationship with yourself- meaning, kinder and more compassionate. Stop judging yourself, especially when things become difficult. Be your own best friend, treat yourself accordingly. You’ll be less stressed, even happier.
- Surround yourself with people who you connect with easily and substantially, who you feel you belong to.
Be aware that stress makes us feel pull to ourselves and not reach out. It’s essential not to succumb to that urge.
You too are entitled to a healthy, happy life. You have to find the strength to not forget to play.
I read somewhere that “caregivers are hidden patients”.
Beware of that.