Self-Care for Caregivers

“Caregivers are us. One out of five – (20%) – of American adults provide care for family or others. Caregiving without pay is on the uptick. Diseases today are increasingly complex and chronic; people are living longer.

Like others, caregivers experience a push/pull in many aspects of their lives: time, financial and physical health, family, work, and emotional well-being. Caregivers require support and protection to ensure they do not suffer deteriorating health effects, financial insecurity, or a combination of these negative impacts.”
– The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP: Caregiving in the U.S. 2020

When compassionate service turns into resentment

Darlene is a solo practitioner. She offers mental health care for adults experiencing anxiety and depression. Client anxiety levels are on a steep rise since Covid despite the many improved coping techniques developed in recent years Following the virus outbreak, Darlene reworked her regular in-person schedule to accommodate a virtual caseload which has doubled what she was once accustomed to.

 Darlene is a seasoned professional, confident in her ability to offer high-quality services to distressed clients. She easily transitioned from face-to-face to virtual visits. Over the years Darlene enjoyed and efficiently managed her workload. However, the pandemic’s effects have created new stressors and unexpected consequences.

She strives to balance caring for her clients’ well-being with the now more-than-ever necessity to maintain self-care. What was before an easily managed workload now poses sometimes overwhelming demands on her time and energies.

In addition to an increase in clients and Covid’s fear factor, Darlene’s sister and confidante Amy contracted COVID while attending to hospital patients in her job. Darlene is unable to spend time and care for her beloved sister.

Only Amy’s partner is designated to care for Amy to minimize the risk of spreading illness. Without her sister’s regular presence in her life, Darlene feels lonely and even angry at COVID. As a first-hand witness to the disease and its ravishes, she also feels vulnerable to the unknowns of Amy’s short and long-term recovery.

Wanting to protect their aging and disabled mother from COVID, Darlene, and Amy endeavor to restrict her from leaving the house. Darlene assumes their mother’s caregiving responsibilities: grocery shopping, prescription pickups, cooking meals, and accompanying her to doctor visits.

Supporting mom has added to the pileup of Darlene’s responsibilities and prohibits her from taking much-needed quality breaks.

Darlene’s mom is starting to show signs of depression. She has become quiet, tearful, and sleeps longer. When Darlene points out these changes, Mom snaps back and complains about not seeing daughter Amy and missing her group of friends at the senior center.

Although Darlene spends time and effort encouraging clients to maintain routines that help them feel their best, Darlene ignores her own heart’s pleas for self-love. While errand driving, Darlene calls a long-time friend and via speaker-phone describes the events happening in her world:

“I look at the calendar to remind myself what day it is. Between the constant exposure to the unchanging concerns of my clients, Amy’s COVID scare, and managing Mom’s needs, I feel tired and helpless. Events segue constantly, yet it feels like I’m stuck in a never-ending caregiving loop. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep up and prioritize everyone else.”

Darlene’s heart opens

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” ― Brené Brown

On a late-night solo walk, Darlene revisits a conversation she shared with a friend. She doesn’t like to perceive her life dramatically. Nonetheless, she acknowledges she is now deeply challenged. Darlene checks in with her heart and determines that she faces three primary stressors.

1. Conflict concerning her definition of love

In the past, Darlene easily compartmentalized her heart. She learned how to distance it in a way that allowed her to express care and concern for others without burn-out and taking on their problems. Yet the unpredictability of the pandemic has imposed unique pressures on what it means to care for others.

Darlene questions if she is saying the right things to clients. Are they making progress? Is she a good therapist?

2. Chaos without dependable relationships

Amy’s COVID rehabilitation is slow. It will be weeks before she returns to work and can help with Mom. The virtual gatherings with friends were fun for a while, but Darlene misses face-to-face brunches and attending fitness classes. The virtual gatherings slowed down to occasional check-ins as everyone found them boring and depressing. Will life before COVID return?

3. Confusion on how to juggle caregiving’s practical and emotional commitments

Darlene’s fast-paced world leaves little room to deal with a sudden onset of losses. Lack of schedule control and increased demands caring for others has left her feeling alone and tired. Her heart struggles. She wants Amy to heal quickly, Mom to be happy again, and for clients to find relief from the growing existential pains of their outer world. Can she clear out a path to care for herself?

Listening to intuition

A late-night walk is Darlene’s breath of fresh air, and she decides to walk and have a heart-to-heart with herself. This time Darlene explores ways she can mobilize her inner resources to make positive changes.

  1. Connecting to outside support and trusting others

Darlene calls two of Mom’s friends and organizes a virtual visit. The ladies chat about their families and complain about spouses following them around the house. They laugh and enjoy each other. Now that they understand how to use the computer’s meeting software, the group agrees to meet online once a week. Darlene loves to see Mom smiling again.

Darlene text messages to her friends and arranges a gathering at an outdoor shopping mall. They bring food and dine on the lawn while social distancing. Although their time together is brief, Darlene is overjoyed to see their faces without masks. This outing represents the first step to trust that others will be mindful of maintaining protocols and protecting each other from exposure risks.

2. Compassion to follow heart boundaries

Between clients, Darlene searches the Internet for ideas on managing her heart. She learns the difference between a program (“I need to take care of everyone else first.”) versus a practice (“I say no with love.”)

Instead of tuning in to her heart last in times of confusion, she remakes it her first step in seeking understanding. Darlene realizes that her negative emotions and feelings are signs she is out-of-alignment with love. She desires choices steeped in empathy, kindness, and gratitude.

3. Clarity for peace of mind

Darlene’s heart begins to soften as her mind gradually frees itself to choose peace over stress. With clients, she puts on her newly formed creative hat. Together they look for possibilities vs. problems and calm vs. chaos.

Conversations slowly shift as Darlene spots new-found motivation and openness. These shifts signal success. Success inspires her to nudge others to pursue hidden gems of opportunity, no matter how small or big.

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