GO, GO, GO
We are always so busy. Being busy seems to be sanctioned by our society. Our technology has enabled us to do more and so instead of taking more time off, we really just cram more in.
When your spouse has cancer, the to-do list is only bigger. We’ve taken on some of his roles in addition to the ones we were already doing. Plus, we probably have taken on the emotional responsibility of being his main support structure. We are constantly thinking about what he needs or what our family needs.
At the end of our exhausting day, we plop ourselves in front of the TV so we can zone out for a while, or mindlessly surf social media. There is nothing wrong with these activities, but they often don’t rejuvenate us.
Not In Touch
I’ve always been a hard worker. This is a quality I like about myself. Over the years, I’ve also recognized that I can drive myself to exhaustion. I push myself to keep going, but end up draining my energy reserves. I’m more aware of this as I get older. Sometimes this energy drain leads to a binge in the pantry – looking for a quick source of carbs to give me energy. Then I overeat and feel terrible. It’s a cycle.
After a lot of work and awareness in this area, I have learned that I’m just looking to feel better. I have learned that food isn’t the solution because hunger isn’t my problem.
The Real Problem
The real problem is that I didn’t actually know how to listen to myself. I didn’t recognize the language my mind and body were using to communicate. When my brain said, “you’re tired, go raid the pantry and you’ll feel better.” What I’ve learned is that what that actually means is, “you’re tired, you need to stop and rest. This can wait.”
If you have never developed the skill of checking in with yourself to see what you actually need, developing this while you are caregiving may seem like a luxury. Seriously, who has the time? There is too much to do and people need you, right?
NOT A Luxury
Burnout is one of the biggest challenges caregivers face. It is very common. We are constantly giving our time, energy, and emotion to others. We are so busy caring for others and taking care of everything that taking care of ourselves is our last priority. We aren’t in the habit of checking in with ourselves along the way. We don’t recognize the signs of when we need to refill our own tank so it literally runs dry.
Burnout happens when this goes on for so long that we deplete ourselves.
Paying attention to your own warning signs is the first step in learning to listen to what you really need. Maybe it’s Facebook surfing for hours, or drinking too much wine that you can’t sleep, or watching TV until so late you cut your sleep short. You will know this is a warning if after you do it, you still feel terrible. It’s not solving your problem.
I first started becoming aware of my tendency to answer my fatigue with food at the empty end of a cereal box. I would still feel horrible, just now it was on how much I ate. Now I know that late night cravings are my mind’s way of saying “you need rest!” I’m still learning and coaching myself on this skill.
What You Really Need
Start learning to pay attention to your warning signs so you can understand what you really need. It may be rest, or friendship, or fun, or just a change of scenery. Allowing yourself those needs may seem very difficult. It’s only because many of us are in the habit of putting our own care last. For caregivers, getting real rest or relaxation is even more necessary because the demands on them are often increased.
It seems like a luxury. Truly it’s not.
We all have a limited energy reserve. Like gas in your tank, it needs to be refilled periodically. When you start to get in tune with what you need to keep your tank full, you will be able to do those things in a deliberate way, when your schedule better allows. It will not be easy, but burnout is not easy either.
Learning to check in with yourself is a skill that I help my clients build. Is is so necessary when you are a caregiver. Click here to sign up for a consult and I’ll see how I can help.