Being a family caregiver can be a very difficult job. The caregiver is usually not prepared for the onset of this new responsibility. Life may already be filled to the brim, and caregiving is added to the heap. A family caregiver may be working or going to school, and caregiving. This makes for a unique recipe for caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue. Below are some tips you can use to find the much needed stress relief and life balance.
- Be Kind to Yourself: Sometimes it is easy to think you are not doing enough. Someone you care for is suffering and you may feel like it’s your sole responsibility for that person to feel better. In addition you may find yourself feeling guilty over the instances of impatience or times when you are not on your best behavior. This is natural.Remember that you too are suffering, that you too have a burden to carry, and just like the person you are caregiving for, you need support and care. You can start by recognizing this and giving yourself self-care and self-compassion. Listen to what the inner critic has to say and replace this with some words of kindness and encouragement.
- Meditate: Contrary to popular belief meditation does not necessarily need to be done sitting cross legged on a cushion. Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, can be done anytime, anywhere, by simply bringing conscious awareness to what it is that you are doing. Just a few minutes a day can be extremely beneficial to combat compassion fatigue.
- Take Some Downtime: It may seem impossible to actually take downtime as a family caregiver. This makes it all more important to do so. Can someone else take over for a day or two? Make sure to take breaks throughout the day that do not involve a screen. Looking at a screen does not allow for the mind to feel expanded. It is better to take a walk, meditate or even listen to some music.
- Get Social Support: Family caregivers often feel on an island. They are not in professional circles. They do not have co-workers to share their common challenges with. Often times they do not know of others in similar situations. Therefore family caregivers need to make a conscious effort to seek social interaction. This can be via support groups or just some friendly hangout time with friends. Stress, in all its forms, is easy for others to relate too, even if it is not directly parallel.
- Replenish Compassion Reserves: Compassion is an inner commodity. Caregiver burnout happens when we run out! It is a good idea to cultivate the willingness to care for others and help to relieve their suffering. In a very real way this is what a caregiver delivers – compassion. The physical aspects of care are secondary to the emotion behind the care. This starts with tip #1, being kind and compassionate with ourselves, and can be deepened by contemplating the gratification that comes with helping others. We can think of ourselves in a similar situation and how we would enjoy such good care as well. It feels very good to give, it can be a beautiful gift, a blessing. Allowing ourselves to think in this way buoys up our reserves of compassion.
- Keep a Gratitude Journal: The mind has a built in negativity bias. It is all too easy to dwell on the negative and forget about all that there is to be grateful for. If you happen to have a nice visit with a friend in the morning over coffee, do you dwell on it all day? Thinking, wow, that was SO NICE! Probably not, however if you get a speeding ticket afterward this might consume the majority of your mental attention for the rest of the day. Both may be equal in their respective power yet the negative seems to win out and get the lion’s share of our rumination. This is why it so important to consciously cultivate positive thoughts of gratitude. Keeping a gratitude journal has been found to increase will power and even boost the immune system.
- Exercise : Exercise releases powerful endorphins, increases a feeling of self worth and can be a meditation in and of itself. Exercise can be a very useful tool that combines self-compassion, meditation, and appreciation. Just by taking the time to dedicate a portion of your day to your well being is an act of self-compassion. It is also a break away from your caregiving commitments; it’s personal and rejuvenating. Sometimes when caregiving there is a feeling of being out of control. Exercise is something we can do to bring back a sense of control, a sense of progress, a feeling of achievement, when there may be few other outlets.
To enjoy playing a sport, we need to be in shape. Caregiving is like that. With the right tools in place compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout can be eased. Family caregiving can instead be a beautiful path for growth and well being. For this to happen we need be on our game; emotionally fit for the task at hand.