I think it probably will happen to most of us at least once in life – we unexpectedly become a round-the-clock caregiver. This past week I watched someone close to me thrown into that role while on a family vacation. It was not part of the plan. It came without warning. No one was prepared.
No one is ever prepared to sit by a bedside fearing for someone you love.
This caregiver’s resilience was amazing. She was a rock. It’s probably partially due to her nurse’s training or maybe it’s because she’s a mom. Either role gives you training that teaches you that when you think you can’t stay awake any longer – you actually can.
When you think you don’t have anything left in you – you actually do.
When you’ve spent the day…or night…looking after others, there is oddly enough more in you to give to people who need it.
That is the essence of reliance. Sticking with it when you’d rather check out.
But then…sometimes the caregiver gives out.
What happens when the caregiver reaches the end of their resilience. Caregiver burnout is a real thing. The Alzheimer Society cites 10 signs that the caregiver needs to watch for in themselves: denial, anger, withdrawing socially, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, sleeplessness, emotional reactions, lack of concentration, and their own health problems. So often their needs take second place and they forget to check in with themselves.
Care for the Caregiver
As the caregiver you can’t afford to succumb to being in a crisis yourself. You need to look after yourself – in small ways…consistently. Here are 6 survival tips for when you are thrown into intense care giving situations. These checkpoints may not keep you from burnout if the caregiving role becomes an extended situation but they may help you offer your best for the short-term. We all know the reference to the instructions on airlines about putting on your oxygen mask before helping those around you. These 6 things are your oxygen mask.
1 Change of Scenery
Get out of the room, the unit or the house at least once a day. Head toward fresh air and living things. If getting outside is not possible search out an atrium or cafes where there are plants. If you are stuck at home, find a window where you can watch birds, animals or people. Although I don’t recommend smoking, smokers take breaks several times a day and head to the outdoors, try to be resourceful like that…without the cigarette in hand. At least once a day make sure you get a change of scenery.
2 Rest periods
Sleep is a beautiful thing. Your body has to have it. Your mind needs it. Hospitals and caregiving disrupts our sleep patterns and it is something we need to be aware of. Minimally, two times in 24 hours make sure you shut your eyes and rest. If you haven’t slept and feel like you are not able to, at least take 10 minutes and close your eyes. Put earphones in and listen to relaxing music, an audio book or nature sounds. Set the sleep timer on your phone to shut off automatically in 10-15 minutes. Force yourself to stay still with your eyes closed until the music or story shuts off. If you fall asleep that’s a bonus.
3 Bottles of water
Minimum. I know it’s tempting to live on caffeine but your body needs water to stay functioning well. Especially if you are caring for people with the flu or a cold or are in a hospital. Your body needs water to flush toxins and viruses from your own system. Drink.
4 Inputs of healthy fuel
You may not feel like eating. Tension messes with our appetites and it may make you sick to think about food. Your body needs fuel though to continue to function. It needs to be fed so it doesn’t get sick. Think about it like a car. It doesn’t matter how a car feels about getting gas, if it’s going to keep running it needs it. Have a supply of healthy fuel available – fruit, vegetables, and nuts – and at least 4 times a day make a healthy input into your body. Your body may want comfort food like chips, chocolate bars, or candy but don’t let those take the place of four intakes of clean, essential fuel.
5 Minutes of Movement
Ideally get up for 5 minutes every hour. (Except of course when you are sleeping!) Stand up. Stretch. Focus on bending and stretch from the top down. Your neck. Your shoulders. Your arms. Your chest and back. Lower back. Hips. Legs. Calves and feet. Check in with every part of your body. Extend and flex. Tighten and Relax. Walk.
6 Deep Breaths
Tactical Breathing has long been used to stabilize soldiers in stressful situations. It is employed by top athletes to control their adrenaline rush in moments they need to focus. When you slow your breath your system has no choice but to slow down. Whenever you feel the stress rising, either from without or within, employ tactical breathing to keep yourself in the game:
Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of 4.
Hold that breath while you count to 4.
Breathe out through your mouth while you count to 4.
Repeat 6 times.
No one needs to know you are doing this. It can be done quietly to help you calm down. Alternatively if you have a private space, you can do tactical breathing loudly to reset yourself and force yourself to focus on something other that the tension at hand. Suck in as much air as you can through your nose to a count of four. Hold for 4 and then exhale completely through your mouth, pushing the air from your lungs. And repeat.
Here is a print out you can use as a reminder to look after yourself:
Do You Have a Caregiver in Your Life?
These 6 items can you used as a check in to know how you can help.
- Have they gotten away for a change of scenery? Have they been out in the last 24 hours? Do they need someone to take their place for a bit so they can? Do they need someone to just take them for a short walk or a cup of tea?
- Do they have access to music and earbuds? Do they have a relaxing playlist on a phone or tablet? Do they have an audio book they can listen to? Can you help set any of this up?
- Do they have a supply of water? A fantastic cup or water bottle? For every coffee you bring them, bring them 2 bottles of water.
- Do they have a supply of healthy food? Cut vegetables? Fruit? Nuts? Healthy snack bars?
- Have they gotten up and moved around? There is something about stretching that is contagious. If you visit try doing some stretching exercises and see if they don’t join you.
- Do they know about tactical breathing?
Do you have anything to add to this list? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.