Caregiver Crunch, Balance and Resilience
Over the years of my practice I’ve heard many stories I would put in the category of “caregiver crunch.” Caregiver crunch is the over-tasked, over-scheduled, time-pressed, stressful life we experience when we simply have too much to do and can’t see a way around it. There is nothing on “the list” we feel we can scratch off—it’s ALL important.
Demanding Situations, Not Enough Time, Mis-Perceptions, Dirty Jobs
Sometimes the thing we are “caregiving” is a demanding position or boss. It might be a situation such as being a single parent, or facilitating care for a sick loved one or aging parents. It might involve being a professional caregiver. It might be a combination of several things. Whatever the details, caregiver crunch always involves a tug-of-war between what we desire to accomplish and the reality (or limitation) of being human. Therefore our perceptions of the situation are the most important component, and perceptions can always be changed. We can adjust our perception of the goal to what is truly reasonable and attainable.
Our mis-perceptions (unrealistic expectations) cause stress, but there also may be far more to do on our lists than is HUMANLY POSSIBLE. So the crunch is not only about our perceptions—it is also about what plays out in time in our daily lives. Do we spend our waking hours chasing a list that can never be done by one person in one day, only to repeat the process tomorrow?
Caregiver crunch may involve a tug-of-war between obligations at work and family or personal needs. We may feel stressed by the perception that we are powerless to change anything that is asked or expected of us on the job, or that to try to change it would result in failure or dismissal. We may fear asking for what we need, or even simply acting to meet those needs. Many self-employed people drive themselves relentlessly based on the perception that to do any less would cause their endeavor to fail.
The nature of our tasks also contributes to the stressful crunch—we may have too many things to do that are upsetting in some way, or that we simply don’t enjoy. Perception plays a role here, too. But we are allowed to have preferences, and facing a seemingly endless list of unpalatable tasks every day does not contribute to success or accomplishment.
Hitting the Wall
Too often caregiver crunch persists until the caregiver breaks down in an area of personal vulnerability and loses some aspect of their health. This need not be.
Self-Care is a Life Strategy
Sadly, when we’re experiencing caregiver crunch, self-care is often among the first things ditched or put so far down on the list that it’s effectively not on the list. But ditching self-care is maladaptive behavior! It does not help us to accomplish our goals EXCEPT in the very short term, at very high cost. Letting go of self-care is a crisis strategy, not a LIFE strategy. To live well and accomplish our goals we must take good care of ourselves. This is fundamental.
No One is Immune
Caregiver crunch has shown up in my personal life and personal circle lately, and that got my attention. Investigating further, I was inspired by the work of ProQOL.org (Professional Quality of Life, Beth Hudnall Stamm, Ph.D. et. al.), which helps professional caregivers understand and navigate the path of being a helper. They give away a pocket card entitled “Caring for Yourself in the Face of Difficult Work” which includes a list of “10 things to do for each day” to address the self-care needs of those who assist in crisis and trauma situations.
The fact is everyone’s work is difficult. Our “work” is our whole life, and life can be overwhelming. We each have much to learn in life—in “Earth School”—and the lessons are not necessarily easy. But we can develop habits that build and maintain our resilience so that we can keep meeting life with the ideals we envision—ideals like peace, love, energy, compassion, light-heartedness and joy. The foundation of resilience is balance.
Balance: 12 Daily Self-Care Guidelines for Resilience
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat enough whole food.
- Drink enough pure water.
- Breathe deeply and get some exercise.
- Pray, meditate and relax.
- Vary the work that you do.
- Do something pleasurable.
- Focus on what you did well.
- Laugh, learn from your mistakes and let things go.
- Support another in some way.
- Cultivate gratitude for all that you have and experience.
In other words, to be resilient we need to attend regularly to our whole selves—our physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual selves. We need to create a life structure that nurtures these aspects of being just like we would create a nurturing environment for a beloved child. When we allow even one aspect of ourselves to lean out of balance, our entire being is adversely affected and more vulnerable to destabilizing influences. When we get out of balance, sooner or later bad stuff happens.
The 12 daily self-care guidelines provide that structure, which we then build out with our personal preferences. For example, I prefer vegetarian foods, drink some tea and coffee as well as water and use certain supplements to support my health and well-being. I prefer walking and exercises I can do at home to going to the gym. I pray more than I meditate because I can pray while I’m “doing” things. And as much as I enjoy my work, I make sure to do something just for the pleasure of it every day.
It’s a simple list and the daily self-care guidelines may seem “obvious” in this Information Age where good advice about living is readily available from many sources. Mothers and grandmothers (dads and grandpas, too) through the ages have surely dispensed this advice. Simple, and yet most of us do not manage to do all twelve every day unless we are at some kind of retreat that recognizes the importance of balance. And that’s okay. These guidelines form an ideal that will support a balanced life when mostly followed most of the time. Following all of the guidelines all of the time, perfectly, is not required. When we do most of them most of the time our lives will be more or less balanced and we will have the protection of resilience.
Be in harmony. . .
If you are out of balance,
take inspiration from manifestations
of your true nature.
(The Gospel of Mary Magdalene)
Balance is a gentle path. Please don’t use this list to beat yourself up when you fall short of it. At the same time, don’t think you can make a habit (or lifestyle) of cheating this list and be fine. We are meant to be balanced, and a lack of balance will manifest consequences over time.
When we’re wedged in caregiver crunch the mind (Cap’n Crunch?) will often argue that we don’t possibly have time to do these things, we simply cannot afford this kind of luxury. In a crisis that may be true. Otherwise it’s just the opposite. It is not a luxury and we cannot afford not to practice self-care. We cannot afford to neglect ourselves. We cannot afford to let our best tool rust out in the rain.
Whatever the situation, there is a way for things to work out. We will have to change our perception about some things, open our minds, exercise patience and stretch our comfort zones. We will have to learn to trust. Some things may happen more slowly than we prefer, and some things may not get done at all. But when we prioritize, and include self-care as a priority, the important things will end up being addressed.
What are your favorite tools of self-care? How are you building them into the structure of your life? Do you notice that you are resilient? How has balance changed your life experience?
With Peace, Love and resilience,
Healing Loss: Choose Love Now by Miradrienne Carroll
outlines spiritual principles and practices
for anyone who wants to heal, at any time,
from the context of healing grief and loss.
Copyright © 2015 Please feel free to hit the Share button,
or share in entirety with attribution. . . .
P.S. Here’s a peaceful musical blessing for you, less than 2 minutes. (Take some deep breaths while you listen, and knock off #4, #5 and #7 from the list. . .):
John Rutter – A Gaelic Blessing – The Cambridge Singers