I often write posts that are focused on the best ways to provide care for children and adults with disabilities. But what about the caregivers themselves? There are many of us out there, whether we are a parent, a family member, a teacher, a direct service professional, or a medical professional. Of course, although we bring an abundance of love and care with us to this “job,” I think few would disagree that being a caregiver is also a challenging job. Each of us has experienced “burnout,” a time when the emotions associated with caregiving surface and cause a person to become overwhelmed, or worse.
I believe it’s important to remember that, good or bad, these feelings are not only allowed but valid and important. We all experience them at some time. I recently learned that moms of children with autism had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, compared to mothers of children without disabilities. Why? Repeated exposure to stress, over time, is known to cause diminished stress hormones. In other words, the high stress levels become typical, causing desensitization.
Of course, each of want to be the best caregiver we can be. So, what can we do to help us cope? Some mechanisms I have found helpful include:
- Healthy Lifestyle – Make exercise a priority in your routine, develop a regular sleep routine, and eat a nutrient-dense meal; these small tips will help you cope with many emotional side effects such as anxiety, mental fogginess, and exhaustion. For Ryan and me, we wake up very early and workout so that we leave for work relaxed and refreshed. For others, the end of the day may be a great time to relieve the stress that has built up throughout the day.
- Plan and Prepare – Rituals and routines are known to have a calming effect, and can help prevent problems before they develop. This works not only for you, but for your child. Put a plan in place for the “just in case,” so that you know how to respond in an unpredictable situation. You may also want a crisis plan to help you deal with a severe behavioral event.
- Forgive Yourself – Sometimes, things do not go as planned, even with the best of intentions. We all make mistakes and spend a lot of time thinking about the “If only I had.” Certainly, it’s perfectly normal to think this, but what is more important is to forgive yourself for being human.
- Find a Cheerleader – caregivers need care, too, from family, friends, support groups, coworkers, teachers, doctors… the list goes on! Surround yourself with positive, supportive people whom you can confide in and express yourself to.
- Treat Yourself – Consider what small things bring you self-gratification: is it painting? A manicure? A glass of wine at the end of the day? Treating yourself once in a while is not only acceptable, but will help your remind yourself that you are worthy of praise, too.
Of course, this list is only a small handful of tips that have been beneficial to me through the years – above all, you should find what works for you as a caregiver! Please feel free to share any special tips below!