By Dr. Karen Bender
Are You Experiencing Caregiver Fatigue?
It is not uncommon for people who care for others to become fatigued and overwhelmed by their role in caring for another. It is not hard to see why. The role can be very demanding, and responsibility can seem endless. Parents, teachers, health care professionals, and caregivers to elderly family members are among those who are at risk for developing caregiver fatigue. If you are experiencing symptoms such as irritability, frustration, loneliness, lack of interest, avoidance, worry, poor sleep, and reduced empathy, you may be experiencing caregiver fatigue and burnout.
What Can Be Done?
It has become popular for well intending people to suggest engaging in “self-care” practices to address the fatigue and exhaustion that come with caring for others. This can be doing things such as getting a massage, exercising, and taking a bath. While these suggestions play an important role in preventing burnout, they are often not enough. They do not provide adequate support that is sometimes needed in challenging moments during caregiving. These self-care practices must be done off the job, and often there is not enough time to do them as frequently as needed. Caregivers need ways to help them in the moment. What if there was a way to foster the positive emotions of connection and a deep sense of purpose while in the moment of caring for others?
Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others
Fortunately, there are ways to shift your emotional state to a more positive one while caring for others. The basic principle is to take some of the compassion you have for the person you are caring for and shift a portion of it to yourself. This process can be broken down in 3 basic steps:
Recognize that you are in a moment of pain or suffering caused by:
- empathy triggered by witnessing another’s pain
- our own physical or emotional pain related or unrelated to the other person
Take a moment to offer yourself compassion for the pain and suffering you are experiencing.
- You can shift your neurobiology away from the stress response of fight or flight and towards the activation of the mammalian care-giver response. When activated, this response releases oxytocin–the hormone that gives us the sense of connection and safety.
- A simple way to make this shift is to take a few deep breaths and place your hand on your heart or in another place that brings you comfort. Everyone experiences comfort in a different way. Experiment with placing your hands in different positions on your body to see what brings a sense of comfort. Common placements include: one or two hands on your checks, hands on your opposite arm as if giving yourself a hug, one or two hands over your heart or abdomen.
Extend some of the compassion you have generated towards yourself towards the person you are caring for.
- Partially due to the presence of mirror neurons in the brain, we pick up and often mimic the emotional state of others. By extending compassion towards yourself, you also can calm the person you are caring for.
- Practice imagining inhaling love and compassion for yourself and exhaling love and compassion for the other person. This creates a regenerative cycle of positive emotions that is beneficial for both the caregiver and the one receiving the care.
- Click here for a guided meditation that gives instructions for this practice.
Simple Yet Powerful
While this practice may seem simple, it can have a powerful effect. I can speak from my own personal experience working as a hospice nurse. In this role, I was often in extremely difficult and emotionally demanding situations. Providing care not only to dying patients, but also their family members, I was often faced with tremendous emotional exhaustion. I was very disciplined about having good self-care practices that I did off the job, but that did not seem to be enough. It was not until I started using the practice of giving and receiving compassion in the midst of suffering, that I was able to better maintain a sense of inner peace and balance that helped reduce the emotional drain I would otherwise feel.
To learn more ways to care for yourself compassionately visit https://www.wholehealthllc.com/compassion-for-success/. For an individualized and holistic treatment plan, call the office to make an appointment with me today.