When you are caring for a loved one suffering a chronic illness or loss of capability, stress becomes your constant companion. Besides being unavoidable, stress can bring our attention to action we need to take.
It can be the hardest time…and the most meaningful time.
Often the most stress comes from our own inner dialog: what is going to happen? How can I keep this up? What will I do if or when he/she is gone? I am just so angry about it all.
Most of us grow up with clear cultural rules about our right or wrong behavior: we should do this, we must do that. However, as thoughtful adults, we always have a choice. As a caregiver, the first choice is to keep ourselves healthy so that we can be of devoted service. And so we need to devote some time to ourselves. By loving and appreciating ourselves exactly as we are, we model to our loved ones how to live the best life, no matter what our situation.
We truly only ever have one time: now. The future is imagination; the past often remembered with very creative interpretations!
Our communication is constant, mostly nonverbal, and follows our intention. If your intention is to help the one you love, they will know and feel it in your presence even when you are not there with them. So if you are walking in the park thinking how much that person means to you, they will benefit even as you take a break to renew your own healing energy.
Sometimes we tell ourselves stories that are not useful: “If it weren’t for HIM, my life would be so much better!” “This relationship is killing me, but I have to stay in it because _______.” When we can be truthful to ourselves about what we need and what is expected of us, we can say more easily what our limits are: “I want to help you, and I need you to stop blaming me for everything. I love you, and I need to tell you what matters most to me so you can understand me better and we can be happier in this difficult time.”
In my coaching practice, certain guidelines are essential: everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have at the time. Everyone has their own view of what is real or what is the truth. There is no failure, just feedback…”Well, I just learned what I need to do differently next time!” Everyone also needs to take responsibility for their situation and the choices they make. It’s essential to love yourself as you are, as we are always learning, changing. Challenging our own negative thoughts and stories is key to healthy, caregiving energy.
Making and keeping a plan to get outdoors, ideally in nature, to move, exercise, and let go, is so critical to long term success as a caregiver. As you walk or take a break, practice mindful breathing by saying to yourself, “nourishing” on the in-breath and, “soothing” on the out-breath. You could also say instead, “one for you, one for me” as you do each breath, sending good energy to someone close to you or in need.
To know limits and in order to be there for the long run, caregivers should also ask for help when needed. Sometimes we feel we can’t speak up, yet most people want to help. We all benefit from helping each other…it’s in our genes.
In my experience in intensely personal tragic situations, I’ve also found that humor makes the difference. We can’t control what goes on around us even as we try our best. To step back from the craziness of some situations and have a deep laugh, often with the one you care for, gives us the release we need: a good balance of laughing and crying connects us to…everything.
So, did you hear the one about the caregiver who took care of herself? She lived a long and happy life because others cared deeply for her!
Guest Blog written by:
Robert (Bob) Loftis, MA
Integrative Career and Communications Coach, Consultant, Facilitator