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4 Ways to Find Rest and Renewal as a Caregiver

By Bailey Miller
August 24, 2021

Being a caregiver in any capacity, whether you’re a professional or looking after a loved one, is often overwhelming. A lot of times, caregivers sacrifice their own well‑being and happiness for the sake of the people they are caring for. But neglecting your own health and happiness can leave you physically depleted, emotionally drained, and even less able to care for others.

That’s why it’s so important for caregivers to take time to recharge their batteries. Taking the steps to support your own health and well‑being can help you to become a happier, healthier, and more well-balanced caregiver—and person.

In a Twill webinar, pediatric ICU nurse and author Hui-wen Sato, R.N., guided participants through the process of “moving up the scale of wellness,” to reenergize and reconnect with their inner compassion. Here are some of the tips she discussed for finding life-affirming ways to unpack the meaning and connection behind our caregiving experiences.

Look Inward

The first step in any caregiver’s self-reflection journey is to “untangle your ball,” says Sato. To do that requires exploring what’s at the center of your problems—for example, it could be anxiety, loss of freedom, irritability, or something else. “We feel tangled up inside, but we don’t always know how to articulate what’s going on because we’re so focused on the immediate needs of the other person,” Sato explains. “But, for us to be able to start taking care of ourselves as caregivers, we need to be able to spend some time turning that spotlight onto our own needs.”

While you may be experiencing negative emotions, these feelings shouldn't lead to self-criticism. “Start with acknowledging that your emotions are what they are, and that they point you to what you need,” Sato says. Then, be a little bit more honest and gracious with yourself. You may be drained from your position as a caregiver, and that's okay.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Now is the time to distinguish between the healthy and unhealthy patterns you may have in your life. What are you doing that is making the negative emotions in your tangled ball worse? Allowing those negative thoughts to take root can sour your experience as a caregiver. To stop this process, says Sato, you should “interrupt the patterns of negative thoughts with some compassion for yourself.” When you notice yourself falling into self-criticism, take a moment to recognize all the good you've done. Tell yourself, “I did a good job today. I couldn’t do it perfectly and I couldn’t do it all, but I did some good work today, and I need to take a minute for myself now,” Sato suggests.

Unpack Meaning and Connection

As a caregiver, you may get so caught up in your busy schedule that you barely have time to stop and think about the impact you’re making. However, reflecting on the meaning and purpose behind your caregiving experience can help you get past the negative emotions and thoughts you may have about it. “Caregiving day-to-day doesn’t typically have an immediate return on investment, but what we do matters," says Sato. "Recognize and really honor that.”

Working as a caregiver in isolation may magnify the feeling that what you’re doing doesn’t matter, but revisiting who you are and how you began helping the people around you can help restore value within your life as a whole. Build connection with others by revisiting who you are and reminiscing about your journey to becoming a caregiver. “Tell stories and share stories with the person you’re caring for," suggests Sato. "Pull out old pictures, bring those stories up, write down your own stories, and bring up again who you are.”

Talking to other caregivers can help you reconnect with your meaning and purpose, as well. Sato says, “As you begin to share your experiences, you yourself will actually be surprised at your own gained wisdom."

Tap into Your Creativity

Caregiving can easily begin to feel monotonous and hopeless. “Creativity can be wonderful, because it can help to counter this mentality of staleness that can creep into our caregiving," Sato explains. "I recognize that it’s temporary, but still just to help reinfuse a sense of newness and life, if even just for a day.”

Sato gives some suggestions on how to do this in order to increase our overall well‑being on a daily basis. “It can be painting a picture together, identifying a favorite song that you have shared with the person you’re caring for and writing your own lyrics to it, or maybe it’s about celebrating off the traditional calendar. Throw a 1/10th birthday or just celebrate the life you have together right now.”

You can also incorporate creativity into your self-care. This can lead to more fulfilling “me time” and make life feel a bit less monotonous. Try to engage in self-care activities you’ve never tried before, even if they seem simple or meaningless. “You can take the long route home one day. Just think, ‘I know that there’s this really lovely neighborhood 10 or 15 minutes off my normal track, and I’m going to go take the long route, open the windows, and just breathe’,” Sato recommends.

Processing your individual value and looking at yourself in a caring and compassionate way will enable you to have a more fulfilling life, despite all the responsibility and monotony you may be facing. "Instead of thinking of yourself as the caregiver, I want you to see yourself as the care-receiver. Allow yourself to be cared for,” Sato encourages.

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