The whole of 2014 was a very challenging year for me. I found myself very irritable with my friends and family, constantly anxious and worried, and most of the time feeling very lonely and depressed. After spending many months in self-reflection, I came to the realization that the thing that was missing in my life as a caregiver was caring for myself.
We’ve all heard the warnings about compassion fatigue or burn-out, but as a Nurse or Nursing student being called upon to give beyond your limits is often times considered a requirement. In school, you have long clinical days and nights studying for exams or writing papers. In acute-care, you’re managing the needs of five to six, often times critically-ill, patients for over twelve hours with no time to pee, eat, or even think about your life outside of work. In public health, you’re managing a case load of over twenty clients that have intense health, socioeconomic, interpersonal, and various other needs you’re prioritizing while dealing with tight budgets and slim resources.
So as caregivers, what do we do?
I’m very blessed to work at an organization that not only empowers the clients we work with, but I’ve been supported as a case manager to invest in self care–because let’s face it, the burn-out is real. So here are the top things that have helped me avoid or recover from burn-out:
Create a Self Care Plan
As Nurses, we develop care plans all the time for our patients, now you can create one for yourself! The University of Buffalo’s Social Work department has created a great Self Care Starter Kit that helps people develop self care maintenance and emergency plans to help people examine how they currently manage their stress and ways they can develop healthier practices. After working on mine, it’s helped me have concrete interventions to help manage the stressors in my life.
I have an issue with people pleasing. Some people are really good at saying no to things they don’t want to do or don’t have time for. If you’re like me, it find myself being guilt-tripped into giving beyond my means. Now I’m much more conscientious when someone asks me for help to actually think about it before agreeing to it. I owe it to myself and my family, clients, and employers to be able to give my best in the areas I’ve committed to investing in, and I can’t do that when I’m being stretched too thin. After a lot of practice in boundary setting, I feel less guilty and more happy in the ways I’m motivated to give.
Making time for relationships can be hard given the amount of hours we work and the physical, emotional, and mental investment we put into our jobs or Nursing school. And sometimes it’s a bit too easy to assume that the people closest to us will understand why sometimes we can’t give as much as we would want to. It’s important to talk to the people in your life about your job or school and how it effects you and your time. Express your gratitude for their support and also be sure to prioritize supporting them when you can as well. Also, seeking a professional counselor or therapist may be a great way to get extra emotional support and help you release some of your thoughts and feelings toward what you experience in caring for people every day.
Another thing I’ve learned is to let go of the toxic relationships in my life. There’s something I often tell myself about negative people, “Misery loves company, but that company doesn’t have to be yours.”
Treat Yo’ Self
Do things that are fun and make you happy! Schedule in time to go shopping, make a coffee date with friends, play some golf, go see a movie, or go on a date with your spouse–and keep those plans as concrete as you would a work meeting with your boss. Be sure to use your vacation days and personal time to take days throughout the year to relax and unwind. Making time to enjoy your personal life will enhance your professional life in the long run.
This one may be a hard to think of as realistic, but it has been super important for me to prioritize. Because my weekdays are crazy hectic once they get going, I wake up early enough to spend some quiet time in the mornings and make sure to have some alone time on the weekends. It’s helped me so much to regain my energy and process things going on in my life when I journal, blog, read, and meditate. Whether it’s in the mornings or evenings, even taking five minutes a day to listen to a good song or have a quiet sip of tea or coffee can help clear your mind. Whatever personal time looks like to you, the time spent with yourself is just or even more valuable than the time you spend with others.
I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any other suggestions or ideas on how caregivers can take care of themselves, please leave a comment below!