Caregiver burnout can manifest itself in our lives in many ways. Ironically, the best of our intentions to pour our time, energies and hearts into caring for the ones we love can lead us to sacrifice our own well-being and ultimately negatively impact the support our loved one needs.
Our bodies tell us when we are over-extending ourselves or denying it basic needs. Some of the physical signs of stress include shortness of breath, stomach cramps, headaches, chest pains or just that chronic knot in your throat. If you are regularly experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to stock of whether you are taking care of your own personal needs as you juggle the demands of a life that include caring for someone else.
How we react to people and circumstances are also important indicators of our level of personal well-being. Do you ever find yourself eating compulsively, drinking excessively or smoking more often than you normally would? Has your patience worn thin? Do you have the desire to strike out verbally or physically? It’s often not a specific event or interaction with someone that is the source of our irritability or angry reaction. But if we find ourselves reacting in these ways, it’s time to make an adjustment.
One of the first healthy things we can do for ourselves once we realize we are frustrated is acknowledge that It is more than ok to have our own needs. Every human being is allotted the same number of hours in a day and require a portion of that time be dedicated to nurturing our own physical, mental and spiritual health. Denying ourselves the basics for rest, recreation and physical renewal is just as fatal to our well-being as denying ourselves healthy food and water on a regular schedule. We can be no positive output from our lives if there is not regular and sustainable input.
I like to think of my time like the dance cards ladies would use at old-fashioned balls. Ladies would carry small cards with them and would let gentlemen “sign up” for a particular dance. Once the ladies’ dances were filled, her evening was fully planned and it would have been socially unacceptable to squeeze any additional dances into the evening.
We would be wise to take the cue from these ladies. Recognize that there are only so many slots to fill on your life’s “dance card.” I dare you to fill the first of these slots with the activities that nurture yourself first. Those might include, eight to nine hours of sleep every night, taking a night out of the house for yourself every week, quality time with good friends or regular visits to the beauty salon or for a massage.
Once you’ve “paid yourself first,” then you’ll be in the best condition to fill in the rest of the slots with all the important work you do to care for your family, home or career. Be mindful that every life will accommodate only a certain number of slots if you expect to be giving yourself and the ones you love your best. If you begin to experience the physical and emotional signals mentioned earlier, it’s time to eliminate some of the slots. Ask yourself if some of the tasks weighing you down can be eliminated or delegated to someone else.
Armed with the knowledge that you should not neglect to care for yourself as you take time to care for others, you should find yourself experiencing more effectiveness and peace in your obligations and relationships. Don’t let the good you are attempting to do for the ones you love cause you to be overcome by caregiver burnout.