Most of us who work in the healthcare field do so because we have a genuine desire to help others. We attend several years of schooling—with many more beyond that in continuing education—to learn and maintain the complex clinical skills required to care for our patients.
But no one trains us for off-the-job caregiving. You know the kind I’m talking about. In addition to your professional role, you also likely play the unofficial role of a caregiver to your spouse, children, an aging parent, family friend or neighbor. With this added responsibility comes a need to understand the emotional impacts of caregiving—both on and off the job.
As a professional, you deal with a range of situations each day. Not all of them are positive and some are emotionally exhausting or even traumatizing. Your acts of compassion and “bearing the suffering of others” has its implications. In fact, the burden of your non-stop caregiver role can lead to significant impacts on your mental health, such as anxiety, frustration and guilt. Nonetheless, you should never feel bad about experiencing these emotions.
When it comes to the reasoning for these emotions, I like to reference the Identity Change Theory. This theory explains that caregiving is a journey that undergoes systematic change. You’ll experience changes in daily and nightly activities, changes in your relationship with the care receiver and changes in your identity as a caregiver.
You may deal with these changes and the emotions of caregiving differently than your peers or family members. You may “feel” your feelings more than others, or you may be more likely to repress them. Health issues that caregivers experience can include headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure and depression. Individuals that repress their emotions are at higher risk for more serious health issues, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, COPD and heart disease.
Make sure that you are aware of compassion fatigue and lead yourself to positive change and personal transformation. It’s a good idea to self-reflect weekly or monthly and keep a pulse on your risk for burn out. There are many online quizzes and self-assessment tools that you can use to measure your risk.
If you start to notice you are getting burnt out, take the necessary steps to manage your emotions and cope with the stress of burn out. A few good first steps are to acknowledge your feelings, understand that the feelings are normal and don’t judge your feelings. Remember that you can only control what you can control.
To release your stress, journal your feelings, join a support group, exercise, meditate or practice yoga. Join a religious entity or find comfort through prayer. Develop a healthy support system. Make yourself a “bucket list” with places you want to travel or books to read. Take time off to unplug and unwind. If you start with baby steps and stick with it, these strategies can become routine.
Being a caregiver is not always the easy. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of others.
What tips do you have to care for yourself as a caregiver? Share your stories and best practices in the comments the below.