This is a re-post from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. You can also read the article on their website by clicking here.
Shake up your view of your demanding and relentless work so that you can start to put yourself at the centre of your caregiving work. Cheryl Rezek, author of Mindfulness for Carers, has written an incredibly honest blog on why it’s important to say ‘no’, putting yourself first, and being mindful of your emotions as a carer.
Taking care of someone else = neglecting to take care of yourself. Does this ring true for you? A carer or caregiver is often prone to using all their time, energy and resources giving the person or persons the attention and support that is needed. However, the danger that can arise is that the caring is only working in one direction.
This blog isn’t about patting you on the back, telling you that you really ought to get some rest or saying what a great job you are doing. You know all these things already. You should be patting yourself on the back for all that you do as well as making sure that you get enough sleep and keep your stress levels down. The chances are you don’t do any of those things or the rest of the long list that could be tagged onto that one. This blog is about shaking up your view of your demanding and relentless work so that you can start to put yourself at the centre of your caregiving work.
Possibly one of the most difficult issues with being a caregiver is setting boundaries. To do this can set in motion a whole range of emotions and fears – I’m being selfish; I don’t need help; what if something happens when I’m resting or out?; how will the person manage without me? These responses are common and, at times, come about for good reason. To say No to someone, in any form, may seem like a mean, uncaring or unrealistic thing to do but this is not always the case. On occasions, the caregiver’s anxieties and fears are greater than those coming from the person being cared for. We often don’t want to admit, or even acknowledge, that our anxiety may be what is driving us to be overstretched rather than only the needs or demands of the situation. Perhaps there are occasions when you could go out or ask someone else to take your place for a short time but you may be reluctant to do this. Why? What is the concern behind this? Do you think you’ll be criticised? Have you lost touch with so many of your friends that you don’t actually have anyone to go out with? Is it easier being the round-the-clock caregiver than having to deal with some other issue in your life? Does your position give you power in the family or at work that isn’t allowed to be questioned? Does your role give you a strong sense of identity that you may not otherwise feel? As a professional, are you needing to present in a certain way to your colleagues or do you perhaps enjoy the energy and status that may accompany the demands of the job? These are important questions to ask yourself as without some answers you will struggle to find a place for yourself. With all the good that is done by being the generous and attentive caregiver, it can also work against you.
Most carers don’t set out to be in that role, unless by choosing a career in it. The vast majority of family carers are doing it because of circumstance, often thrust upon them in some harsh way. The choices here are dramatically reduced but, in spite of that, you still have a choice about how you take care of yourself as well as the other person.
There are evident differences between being a family caregiver and a professional person who is in a helping profession. Family carers or foster carers feel an enormous responsibility for the wellbeing, comfort and survival of their relative or foster child. Needless to say, professional caregivers such as nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists and health assistant also feel such a sense of responsibility but there is an inevitable difference as the family ties, bonds and history aren’t there, and while loss may be felt, sometimes deeply, it is not felt in the same way or with the same level of intensity. Professional carers go home at the end of the day, or shift, and if they don’t they ought to.
It is important to also raise the issue of being a family carer for someone with whom one does not have a good or loving relationship. This situation is more common than most people would like to admit but the other person’s vulnerability makes it very difficult to say no or to set limits. Caring out of a sense of duty or obligation can lead to resentment and distress.
Caregivers come in many shapes and forms and people are in those roles for as many different reasons – a parent to a sick or disabled child, a special education teacher, a hospice worker, an adult child of elderly or ill parents, a partner of chronically ill or terminal husband or wife, a young child of an ill parent, a foster carer, a medical doctor, a community nurse, a health assistant in a mental health unit, a social worker, a carer of younger siblings. The list is endless but the demands and stress frequently similar.
The big question is how you take care of yourself and if you don’t, why not? Burnout and fatigue can lead to physical and mental health issues. These are damaging and you then run the risk of making mistakes, becoming unwell and, at worst, needing to be taken care of yourself.
Mindfulness is a gentle, accessible and nourishing way of reducing caregiver’s stress and increasing their wellbeing and attention. Research has also shown how those being cared for by people using mindfulness benefit from their carers being more present and open to them.
We are human and no matter how resilient we believe we are, how physically strong we show ourselves to be or how psychologically grounded we say we are, we are still human and being human implies that we have thresholds of tolerance. It’s not about breaking or collapsing in a heap but far more about recognising that as a caregiver you need to take care of yourself as well as the other person.
Dr Cheryl Rezek is a consultant clinical psychologist and mindfulness teacher who brings a fresh and novel approach to how mindfulness and psychological concepts can be integrated into everyone’s life as a way of managing it in the most helpful way. She has a longstanding clinical and academic career as well as runs workshops and authors books. You can find out more about Mindfulness for Carers, read reviews or order your copy here.