Last week, I overheard a conversation at a medical office in the waiting room – a discussion about what a physician had ‘said’ and what the patient ‘heard.’ It appeared as though the family member with this person was their caregiver, and I could hear a tone and language that I’ve listened to before—my own as a caregiver.
Communication, the language that we choose, and the energy our bodies emit, is essential in what we speak, what we hear, and what our posture implies. A harsh reaction may be coming from someone’s pain or fear, and your response to it can be a powerful hit or a supportive landing place.
When you add emotional and physical exhaustion to a situation that is already elevated emotional explosions are more likely to occur. We have all been in situations where we are not just tired, but anxious, feeling like a tetherball pulled in many directions, and we snap. If you can catch yourself before that breaking point arrives, take a deep breath, or excuse yourself for a few minutes rather than continuing the conversation with a hasty, emotionally charged response. And if an adverse reaction slips out before you can stop it, don’t beat yourself up. Just pause. Breathe. Be open and honest with the other person, apologize, and reframe your response.
I’m willing to bet that every caregiver, me included, has experienced emotional exhaustion in some form. We’ve all heard the words, “I can’t do this anymore,” come out of our mouths, or at least, echoed loudly in our brains. Almost all of us have been surprised at the words we’ve spoken, words that come from fear, frustration, anger, and the big one-two combination: feeling resentful and feeling guilty about that feeling.
Stress is real. It’s not something you should ‘get over,’ and it’s not something you should have been ‘smart enough to see coming.’ It is so easy to get caught up in spin knowing that you’ll be able to balance yourself, but equally as easy to fall.
It is essential to open our awareness of how we express ourselves and how we view others:
- Solutions will emerge with an open mind – don’t close yourself up in judgments.
- Allow yourself to be who you are and give others the space to be who they are. We all have our bad days; be as open-minded as you can and engage in conversations when emotions rise. This is not the time to shut down.
- When you must engage with others professionally or personally, listen with the intention of understanding, not responding. Truly hear what the other person is saying, including being open to what they may be feeling.
- If you’ve had a bad day or you are overly stressed or tired that is NOT the time to have a conversation with someone. There is nothing wrong with saying that you can’t talk or meet right now but you know that it is an essential conversation and set up another time. If it is truly urgent, then don’t hesitate to let the other person know that you’re in a depleted state, but you’ll do your best to have an open frame of mind.
Be responsible with your words. Be open to knowing that other people have bad days, too. Listen before you speak. Pause before you react.