Self-Care, the Care and Feeding of Caregivers
This post builds on my last post about running away, metaphorically, or coping skills. Let’s talk about taking our emotional temperature, or doing our own “stress index.”
You Can’t Help Someone Else If You’re Broken
Who cares for the caregivers? The article below gives an apt analogy. You’re in an airplane, the oxygen mask drops in front of you. The person next to you needs help. What do you do first? Well, we’ve watched enough airline safety instructions to know, you put your own mask on first, then help the person next to you.
The point is, you can’t take care of your loved on if you’re neglecting your own health and well-being. When I worked as a hospital nurse, I had a patient hospitalized for a heart arrhythmia. She looked so tired. In talking with her I found out she cared for her spouse with Alzheimer’s. He was a handful. He would get up in the night and wander, sometimes in winter, barefoot, without a coat. One of his favorite nighttime activities was going into the garage, raising the hood of the car and throwing lighted matches on the engine. I’m sure in his mind it made some sort of sense but his poor wife was a wreck. The hospital social worker got busy immediately, finding her additional help.
Sometimes I think, if I got really sick, if I had to have surgery, what would my parents do? They couldn’t stay here by themselves. Thankfully, we’ve never had to find out. There are many websites addressing caregiver burnout and caregiver stress, most urging caregivers to eat right, get adequate sleep, exercise, and don’t neglect your own doctor appointments.
I’d never thought of it but apparently some adult children decide to take care of their parents hoping to mend relationships that have been fractured for years. I think it’s a good idea to mend relationships but I don’t think it is a good reason to get into caregiving. Caring for a loved one is so stressful, if the relationship is torn in the beginning the added stress will rip it to shreds. You have to be heart-whole to be a caregiver.
What Does Stress Look Like? How Do We Fix It?
Learning to manage stress is harder than it sounds. The general consensus is number one—exercise. When your tired from tending your loved one, all you want to do is sit down. I know I do. I also know if I force myself to go for a swim or take a walk I feel much better. We need an awareness of what brings on stress for us, what signals to watch for in ourselves, and what are good stress relievers for us. Everyone is different but if you notice you are short-tempered, have problems sleeping, start turning to food or alcohol for comfort, it’s time to make changes.
We need to be students of our own bodies and our own emotions. We can’t take positive steps to fix something if we are oblivious to the problem. I get irritable and sleep poorly, those are the first signs I notice when my life is out of balance. If I don’t deal with it then, I start having physical symptoms, stomachaches, chest pains and even panic attacks if I don’t make efforts to reduce my stress. What works for me is exercising, taking a break by getting out of the house, doing word puzzles or reading a light novel–especially if it is laugh-out-loud funny.
I can also talk to my doctor or talk to my husband.
What signs signal you’re stressed? What helps you relieve stress?
Have a good caregiving day,