Updated: Jan 20
How does a caregiver recharge?
Being a caregiver is not easy. I highly respect people that choose to do it as a profession. Giving care—to a baby, a sick partner, an aging parent, or as a part of a career—is a sacred act. Offering your time, presence, and energy to someone is a powerful gift. It’s also really hard, especially when it means watching someone you care about suffer.
To care well, we need to be able to access our inner softness that allows us to feel compassion and empathy for the one we are caring for. But it also requires strong boundaries so that we do not lose ourselves in the process. When we do not appropriately protect our capacity to care, we can lose that part of us altogether.
You're in the Role of Caregiver.
Now you are in the role of caregiver and feeling the pressures. There is never enough time in the day. You are always waiting for the next shoe to drop. You’re on hyper-alert status. You feel exhausted. You’re stretched too thin. You aren’t sleeping well. You’re worried about your loved one. You feel out of control. Guilt. Does any of this resonate?
If so, I can relate. I have found myself in this situation a couple of times in my life. As an only child, I was responsible for my mom’s care in the later stages of her Alzheimer’s. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to care for her in my home. I worked full-time and lived 1500 miles away. Resources on how to find help were limited. I had to blindly move forward, step by little step, and hope for the best. It was a very bumpy road. Receiving a call while on a camping trip that your mom has been dropped off at the hospital, because the new owners of the personal care home she was in decided they didn’t want to take care of her any longer, really isn’t what one hopes for. Not for her as I am sure she was terrified, nor for me because I didn’t have cell service and was in the middle of nowhere. It was supposed to be her forever home. Scrambling to find a nursing home and figuring out how to pay for it…very taxing. 2 a.m. phone calls advising of a fall she had taken, were no fun. The helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, and guilt I felt through this whole process was consuming at times.
A few years later, I found myself in the position of taking care of my veteran husband through an extended bout with COVID that made him not able to walk or think clearly for a while. A few months later, he suffered his 6th bout of pancreatitis that turned into pneumonia while he was in the hospital. They sent him home completely incoherent. I took him back. The second time they sent him home, his body was so tired that only the most primitive part of his brain was fully functioning and he was doing things that put himself and others in danger. I was at the point of not being able to function after this and realized that if I didn’t start taking care of myself, I was going to die. Have a heart attack or a stroke and just perish. That was not ok! So, I sought help for him and started on my self-healing journey.
Through my own experience and educating myself, I have discovered some key elements of a self-care plan that will keep you going and fill your gas tank back up.
Self-care for Caregivers
One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Compassion fatigue is like running out of the gas that fuels our engines for caring. When someone is relying on us, that can be very dangerous. When we do not take enough time to rest and restore ourselves, to do things we enjoy that nourish our physical and spiritual bodies, we have less to give to those to whom we are tending. When we don’t stop to care for ourselves, we can’t care for anybody else.
What can caregivers do to recharge?
Make sure you are getting enough sleep. If you are tired, your brain and body start shutting down. You need time to recharge.
Give yourself a break. Ask another family member or friend to step in for a bit so you take care of yourself…go to the dentist, get your mammogram, get a massage or just run some necessary errands. Hire a sitter or home health care worker. Take your loved one to an adult daycare center. Enroll them in a personal care home or nursing home. You can’t do it all…all of the time…24/7.
Stop the guilt. You are allowed to feel however you feel. I was so relieved when my mom passed. The burden was released. No more feeling responsible for someone whom I had a complicated relationship with and didn’t even know who I was anymore. No more 2 a.m. phone calls from her care facility. No more calls telling me that I had to move her because the facility couldn’t take care of her. I was 1500 miles away…what was I going to do? This was a very hard thing to talk about because it sounded so callous. But here it is, the truth of my reality. And it’s ok.
Build your strength physically. Get in your walk or whatever exercise you choose. Do it in the house if you must. Your body and your mind with thank you.
Evaluate what you are putting in your body. Are you getting your fruits and vegetables? They are fuel! Are you drinking enough water? Reach for seeds and nuts to snack on. Make sure you are eating!
Take time to nourish your spirit and mental health. Go to church regularly if this helps you. Otherwise, connect to whatever your spiritual self needs. Connect with nature. Read spiritual books. Meditate. Sit in prayer. Spend time with friends. Connection to others is so important!
Get out in nature. A recent study shows that just 15 minutes on a park bench boosts positive thoughts, increases energy, and reduces stress hormone levels. Walk outside barefoot and just plant yourself for a few minutes. This is called grounding. Grounding focuses on realigning your electrical energy by reconnecting to the earth. Studies have reported benefits for inflammation, pain, mood, and more.
Attend group sessions to connect to other people that are going through what you are. There is strength in numbers. Just being able to share your story with people that understand goes a long way. You will also learn tricks and tips to deal with your situation.
Reach out to a therapist. A therapist and psychiatrist can help you manage your emotions and prescribe antidepressants if needed to help get you through the hard times.
Meditation. Mindful meditation allows you to tune into yourself and boost your own well-being. Research suggests that meditation can help caregivers reduce depression and anxiety, sleep better, and have an overall improved sense of well-being.
Yoga. Regular practice of yoga nourishes the body and the spirit, and even a little bit can make a huge difference. Stretching and connecting with your body not only feels good but also helps with overall fitness and flexibility. On top of that, it helps build resiliency, reduces stress levels, improves sleep quality and concentration, and increases positive emotions.
There are many things that a caregiver can do to help build resiliency. Having a strong self-care practice will help you deal with the stress, anxiety, and tolls that both have on the body-mind-spirit.
If you need help creating your self-care plan and sticking to it, please reach out. As your coach, I will be an ear and hold you accountable for your actions.
Remi Gibbs, the founder of Renovated Realities, is a 1:1 life coach, writer, speaker, and podcast host of Conversations on Life, Work, and Love. You can find more about Remi on her website, www.renovatedrealities.com.