Let’s talk about caregiver fatigue: self-care isn’t selfish

Our nature (if you’re like me anyway) is to want to give, give, give, putting others’ needs and wants in front of our own. When we think of caregiver fatigue, we might think of doctors and nurses, hospice care or ill loved ones, but did you know anyone can experience caregiver fatigue just from everyday life scenarios? Maybe it’s family or friends or even coworkers coming to you for help – a lot – and you find yourself feeling unexpectedly drained. Much like the need (especially for an introvert) to recharge after a lot of socializing, we all need to recharge our batteries after a lot of giving and caring for others. After all, much like the advice on flights, we can’t give to others if our own tank is empty. With that said, here are a few ideas for you to recharge your tank and give yourself that care you need to care for others.

1) Have a weekly date night with yourself. You know how you don’t have any problem scheduling dates or plans with friends, right? Or work commitments? Or errands? Well, why should your self-care be any different. Pick a night, block it off on your calendar and then give yourself that much needed recuperation time. Maybe have a bubble bath. A fun paint night. Or just watch a movie and eat chocolate. It may sound counterintuitive to schedule down time, but much like scheduling gym time or meal prep time, chances are that if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen … and that I can personally vouch for, haha.

2) Take a self-compassion break. Okay,  great,  but what if you need some self-care NOW and your date night isn’t until later in the week? Try taking a self-compassion break. I learned about this in an 8-week mindful self-compassion course I took last fall and it has become one of my favorite short exercises to practice whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed and emotionally fatigued. How does it work?

First, simply take a deep breath and say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering.” Other options include “This hurts” or “This is stress”. What you are doing here is acknowledging what is happening in the present moment. This acknowledgment is mindfulness …. in contrast to feeling overwhelmed the whole day and not realizing you were stressed until the end of the day when you collapse, exhausted.

Second, acknowledge that suffering is a part of life. That’s common humanity. You could say to yourself “I’m not alone. Others are just like me.” Or “We all struggle in our lives.” When we are suffering, we can feel alone.

Finally, offer yourself some compassion. This could be putting your hands over your heart, or wherever feels soothing and just feeling the warmth and gentle touch of your hands. And then perhaps offering yourself some words of loving kindness, such as “May I be kind to myself” or “May I give myself what I need.”  If you’re having difficulty finding the right words, imagine what you would say to a friend or loved one in need and perhaps gently try offering yourself that same message from the heart.

3) Learn to say no sometimes. Now, depending on your particular situation, you may have a 24/7 caregiving role, but there are probably still situations with friends or others asking for your help that you could say no to, but might find yourself saying yes to even when you don’t have the energy to give anymore. Saying no is hard. Even if it’s just saying no to hanging out with a friend that wants to hang out when we need alone time. We manage to feel guilty, thinking we’re letting them down. When in the reverse situation we would have no problem with them saying no to us! We can’t do everything. Tuning into our own needs, acknowledging them and saying no to things that don’t meet those needs is a skill well worth developing. Easier said than done of course, but even just tuning in sometimes and asking yourself “What do I need in this moment?” can do a world of good. That’s self-compassion.

4) Learn to accept help. It’s a funny thing. If our tendency is to give, we usually have a lot of trouble receiving. If this is you, maybe try thinking about it this way. When we help someone (assuming we’re not fatigued from too much helping!), we feel good. This is called a “helper’s high” and is actually our brain chemicals lighting up. So, by accepting someone’s help and receiving help for ourselves, we are letting another person experience that same “high.”  And when we are both giving and receiving, we come into balance.

5) Acknowledge and accept what you can’t control. When it comes to caregiving or any kind of giving, the hard part is often that we want to make things completely better for the other person, but 99% of the time that is simply not possible however much we might wish it. Accepting what we can’t control, therefore, can help us prevent those feeling of guilt from bubbling over.

6) Visualize giving and receiving compassion. As an option to the self-compassion break, I really also love this simple giving and receiving compassion breathing exercise that can either be a formal longer meditation or simply something I do in the moment when I need it. With each in breath just visualize inhaling compassion for yourself. Taking several deep inhale breaths of compassion. Drawing compassion inside your body and letting yourself be soothed by inhaling deeply and giving yourself the compassion you need. Remembering that everyone is on his or her own life journey; you are not the cause of this person’s suffering nor is it entirely within your power to make it go away even if you wish you could.

Then when you’re ready, with your next exhale breath, imagine sending compassion to the person you are caring for or the loved one who needs your help or just to others in general. Continue breathing compassion in and out. “One for me, one for you” or “In for me, out for you”. If you find that anyone needs extra compassion (yourself or others) just directing your breath in that direction. Letting yourself float on an ocean of compassion, a limitless ocean that embraces all suffering.

An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.

 

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