To be in a caring capacity right now is tough. Medical professionals are reeling from overwork and lack of rest. Those who help people in crisis – the rescue teams for people and animals – are moving from one climate-related tragedy to another, trying to provide help and support. Organizations and people who provide financial assistance are struggling to get to everyone who might lose their home, need a hot meal, or have nowhere else to turn to support their families. And then there are the everyday folks, the people who help the elderly, the sick, the infirm, and those who respond to calls for help in the community.
Caring is hard. You might want not to care and rest or focus on something else, but when the call comes, and someone needs help, it’s almost impossible to say “no.” Right now, the need is perhaps greater than ever, be it people displaced from their homes, weather-related responses, animals being returned to rescue as people go back to work, medical issues where there are no appointments or beds, and so on. If you want to help right now, there are a hundred places that could use that help.
But caregivers burn out. Caregivers need support too, and with the number of people fleeing the medical profession, it’s easy to see how the impact will be harsh on people who still need the care, but the caregivers are spent and cannot give it. A woman in rescue recently told me she doesn’t know if she can do it anymore after learning about a beautiful pit bull who had spent 2.5 years waiting for a home and was finally adopted. As the caregivers celebrated, the dog was murdered on the second day by its new owners. Another told me a story of helping a family with some needed groceries and to help pay basic bills only to find out the older son – with a drug problem – had stolen everything, and the family was destitute again. Sometimes it gets hard to see where someone believes they have failed, yet they must get up and move to the next situation awaiting them.
While many people get wealthier and wealthier, others are just trying to provide the needed care and support. It’s daunting and tiring, and some days there doesn’t seem to be any light at all.
If you are a professional caregiver or just one of those caring people who gives and gives and sometimes doesn’t get much in return, it’s important to find small ways to take care of yourself, too. At a certain point, the mind and the body start to revolt and to be truly helpful. You need to be truly healthy too.
- Every day, do something that matters to you. This can be as simple as drinking your cup of coffee and breathing in the aroma as you sip it. It can be stepping outside and looking up at the sky and counting the clouds. It can be reading a few pages in a book or calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. This isn’t meant to put yet another thing on the calendar, and it’s meant to call your attention to something positive and uplifting, be it small or large. But don’t wait until you can plan the spa day or the get-away, do it now – every day.
- Learn your limits. Yes, the need is there, and you don’t want to say “no” to things. Sometimes this type of advice for caregivers backfires because you can’t decide what to say “no” to and what to agree to. But it is important to understand how much sleep and exercise you need, how you can still eat well, and how you can find time to do some things that are important to you. Rather than just arbitrarily saying “no,” try first scoping out what is important to preserve and then planning around it. Once you have no time or space left, you start to say “no” because you have to.
- Find a buddy who is also a caregiver and support one another. Oftentimes if you have people in your life that aren’t caregivers, they will tell you, “You do too much!” or “Just say ‘no,’” but this is easier said than done when you are someone who gives and gives and gives. People who don’t care don’t get it. Find someone who does but can agree to help you navigate differently.
- Acknowledge what you do and how much you do to help others. Oftentimes caregivers focus only on their faults, or on the losses or what still hasn’t been done. Instead, turn your attention every single day to make a list of what you have done well and where you have contributed positively. It’s important to know your wins and give yourself credit for what you have done and can do.
- Instead of doing something nice for someone else, just today – do something nice for you. Yes, it’s where the list started, but it bears repeating. Do something nice – for you. And then, most importantly, do not feel sorry or be guilty of the fact that you did it! Just enjoy.