Who Cares for the Caregiver?

hand holding elderly arm
by Vance Larson

Your friends, family members and even coworkers turn to you. When there are problems and they are hurting, it’s you that is at the front of the line offering help. You care for everyone. You are exhausted. You run out of energy and wonder “Who cares for the caregiver?”

Approximately 20% of my practice is supporting caregivers. Why do they reach out? Because they burn out. Because they care, and are dedicated to their profession, and/or their family member. What surprises me is that it is only 20%. That somehow, many caregivers have lost sight of giving care to themselves. Even worse, that getting help for themselves somehow invalidates their strength. When in fact, that is the furthest thing from the truth. 

When people depend on you, you owe it to them to bring your best.

There can be no longevity with out self care. Take it from someone who has spent his entire life working as a caregiver {mental health professional.} Two decades providing crisis work taught me boundaries. It taught me to pace myself. That when people depend on you, you owe it to them to bring your best. But so many helping professionals disregard that. In fact, their inability to take care of themselves, has put them in very real danger. Let’s take a look at some caregiver facts.

1. Almost one quarter (23%) of all family caregivers report their health as fair to poor. (Family caregiver defined as 5 or more years).

2. Nearly three quarters (72%) neglect to go to the doctors themselves.

3. 63% report having bad eating habits. 

See what I’m getting at? But it actually get’s much worse. Her are some additional statistics.

A. 40-70% of caregivers show symptoms of depression. While a quarter of them meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

B. Extreme stress for caregivers can take as much as 10 years off of their life. 

C. Here in the United States, businesses lose 34 billion dollars a year to due to employee’s who take care of a family member. 

So I ask, “Who takes care of the caregiver?” 

The reality is that self awareness will be your savior. If you are a helping professional or caregiver, you are going to need self care measures, or professional help. There is no way around it. And being aware of this fact, will not only provide longevity, but in most cases keep you healthy. The key is to be honest with yourself. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to say I’m busy or I’m tired. Cultivate boundaries. For if you don’t, you will manifest resentment towards your client or family member. 

In addition to being in mental health for the past 33 years, this past decade, my wife has been dealing with some pretty serious health issues. And while she can (most of the time) take care of herself, she is limited on what she can do. And with surgery number 5 in 3 weeks, my care giving days are about ready to go into overdrive again. So again I say, that self awareness will be your savior.

I have written about self care in the past. What I have done to keep myself sane in this insane time is the non negotiables. Non negotiables are things that I do everyday, no matter how busy I am. These 3 things anchor me, and keep me moving forward without resentments. They are a minimum work out of 40 minutes, 15 minutes of meditation, and at least 60 minutes of mindless tv time with my wife {without talking about health, bills, upcoming appointments and so on.} We purely just enjoy each others company. 

“It really doesn’t matter what your self care plan looks like, as long as it rejuvenates you.”

In addition to my non negotiables, I also have a pretty sound self care regiment. But you have to find what works for you. But at the top of my list, there is zero alcohol, vegetarian diet and minimal caffeine. That just seems to work for me. Some caregivers I know take a night a week for wine with their friends. Others may go to a movie by themselves. It really doesn’t matter what your self care plan looks like, as long as it rejuvenates you. But here’s the thing. You must cultivate the ability (no matter what your self care plan or activity looks like) to not think about what waits for you when you’re back on duty. It’s the same principle I tell long term couples when they go on date night. No talking about the kids, finances or the every day run of the mill stuff. Get lost in each other. Your self care plan is no different. Shut down the mind, disengage and enjoy your moment. 

So if you’re wondering who takes care of the caregiver? It’s a process. And the first step in the process is knowing that you will need help from time to time. That help may come in the form of a professional like myself. Or, it may be as simple as deciding to take better care of yourself and set healthy (realistic) boundaries.

Even the strongest have their moments of fatigue ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

All caregivers get fatigued. 

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