Many people have somewhat stumbled into what is often referred to as “the sandwich generation”: the age of caring for young children and elderly parents at the same time. As well, traits that may have influenced the taking on of caregiving responsibilities for family members may have also led to a career in a helping profession (or a helping role, regardless of the field of employment). While caregiving can be admirable, the risk of caregiver burnout is real. So, here are some strategies for taking care of yourself, so that you can in turn sustainably care for others:
Leisure time is important to maintaining good overall health, so make time for things that you enjoy. Recognizing that what is enjoyable will be largely subjective, try to participate in a combination of physical, artistic/ creative, intellectual, religious/ spiritual, social, and solitary activities. Think of these as comprehensively caring for your mind, body, and spirit.
Don’t Deny Difficulties
Taking care of others is often hard and tiring, and it can bring up many challenges and struggles; trying to act as though it’s all ‘a walk in the park’ only fuels feelings of failure and inauthenticity. Instead, acknowledge the difficulties that arise, and seek help in coping. Friends, family, religious community members, support groups, and mental healthcare professionals are potential resources in this regard.
Soothe Your Senses
Since caregiving can be difficult and draining, fostering an attitude of self-compassion and self-kindness is critical. Brainstorm a number of things you find comforting, then pick one to do when you need to give yourself a figurative hug. Here are some ideas: look at some of your favourite photos, visit an art gallery, change into your comfiest robe and slippers, diffuse an essential oil with a pleasing aroma, take a walk and admire the sights, sounds, and smells of nature, listen to relaxing or uplifting music, watch a light-hearted tv show or movie, have a favourite snack or meal, get a massage, take a warm bath, or play with your pet.
Release the Reins
Taking on responsibility for things out of your control contributes to stress; think of this as similar to banging your head against a wall– you won’t move the wall but you will get a headache! Learn to release responsibility for things you can’t control (i.e. the progression of a loved one’s illness, or the way other children treat your child) and focus on the things you can
Remember the Reasons
Studies show that those who find deep meaning in what they do experience less conflict and stress from doing it. Therefore, remember the reasons why you take care of others, and bring them to mind often so they can help cultivate a sense of purpose in your life.
Caregiving may be your choice, part of your value system, and/or required of you by your situation, but in any case, caring for yourself better equips you to more sustainably care for others. So be encouraged, and take care!