Coping with stress and burnout from over-care
It is so easy to step over the line from caring to over-caring.
The signs of over-care include guilt, anxiety and unrealistic expectations.
It can drain your energy, cause burnout and impact your health.
I stepped into over-care when I helped my dear friend Valerie. She suffered from diabetes, two strokes and congestive heart failure. Her health was compromised by the 23 years she cared for her son Matthew, who lived with and died from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
By age 58, Valerie was unable to work and had no financial resources. Though her brother and sister provided a small home for her, they could not provide the care she needed. I helped her apply for Medicaid, and enrolled her in PACE, a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which provides medical assistance to low-income individuals who want to stay in their homes.
I also served as her designated medical agent and joined in conversations with many of her specialists. As her health worsened, I found that I would lie awake at night trying to figure out the best path for her.
I worried about the mold growing in her bathroom and the expired food in her refrigerator. I was anxious about her ability to take her medications properly. I was disappointed in her for not using her walker more often, because of her frequent falls.
I began feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and powerless.
Once I realized I had crossed the line from care to over-care, one change I made was increasing my breathing practice, specifically, Heart-Focused Breathing, by setting aside time for two 10-minute sessions a day.
At first it was difficult to maintain a coherent state of calmness, which is a goal of this practice. But after a couple of weeks I began to see a change in myself.
I was developing a sense of acceptance and gratitude for all I could do for Valerie instead of focusing on what I couldn’t. I recognized that filling the role of her designated medical agent and consulting with her medical specialists was a wonderful gift for both of us.
And it was enough.
As I let go of my anxiety and the need to be the problem solver in all things, I noticed that her other friends started stepping up to assist her with grocery shopping, house cleaning, and companionship.
Take the charge out of a reaction and shift into a more coherent state with this technique developed by the HeartMath Institute.
Tips for Caring for Body, Heart and Soul
Caregivers are at risk for stress and burnout, also known as over-care. This happens when we continually give more than we have to give, whether it is time, money or energy.
Common signs of burnout are feeling anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed or exhausted.
If left uncared for, it can lead to our own isolation, depression, addictions and physical health problems.
The Body, Heart and Soul Self-Care Daily Practice is a holistic self-care approach that can be easily integrated into even the busiest schedule. Get creative. Make it fun. Do this for yourself so you can show up as your best self.
• Care for your Body: When running an errand, park further away from your destination to get in a short walk. Do jumping jacks or stretches while food is in the microwave. Make healthy choices to your diet by simply adding salad greens to meals. Drink one more glass of water. Eat one fewer dessert.
• Connect with your Heart: Share a touching moment with your caregiving community online or in person. Hug your kid or another family member, and don’t forget the dog. Grab dinner with a friend or, be brave and ask the friend to bring you dinner. Text a note of appreciation expressing gratitude, and it will likely lift your spirits.
• Feed your Soul: Work in several, short, Heart-Focused Breathing exercises throughout the day. Meditate. Dance to a song that really moves you. Read a poem that supports you. Journal. Stargaze or create your own ritual that connects you to your soul.
AARP: Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping With Stress
How to Manage Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving (video)
The Emotional Side of Caregiving
HeartMath Institute Video Gallery