Mercy, compassion and service are the heart of God. Scripture tells us to “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6;36, ESV) But if you’re care taking for your parents, spouse or child, you’re well acquainted with the fatigue, stress and guilt that come from prolonged seasons of compassion. You may be supporting a loved one through:
- chronic illness
- anxiety and depression
- loss of physical mobility
We walk a fine line of empathy and exacerbation. On one hand, our empathy propels us forward in servant-heartedness. We lean into the work set before us knowing our outpourings are purposed for service. But frustration and fatigue sneak in quickly, don’t they? Our care taking efforts become harder, albeit forced. We begin to minimize our body’s stress signals, ignoring our impatience, irritability, numbness, insomnia or unrelenting fear.
How can we maintain empathy in seasons of caregiving? How do we prevent the cascade of events that often lead to compassion fatigue and burnout? Even more, how can we restore our hope when our caregiving leaves us discouraged, fragile and empty?
5 Ways to Help Caregiver Stress
1. You have permission to grieve.
As caregivers, we can be quick to minimize the burdensome realities we face. We might let comparison take root, concluding that our place and efforts aren’t the primary focus. In our caring, we’ve grown into a rhythm of placing others’ needs above our own with little to no consideration for our own wellbeing.
When we find ourselves teetering on the line of exhaustion, it’s important for our first coping mechanism to involve pause. In care taking, we have permission to make space for our own personal grief. Our eyes and ears are witnessing traumas up close and personal. We’ve held up the wobbly body that’s no longer capable of staying erect on its own. We’ve seen the torment of mental illness debilitate the minds of our family, turning our households inside out with despair.
Pausing to acknowledge what is true for ourselves not only helps us to remain the caregivers we want to be, but gives us permission to respect and grieve our own losses as well.
2. Nourish your own physical body.
Our coping habits not only reflect how well we’re caring for our families, but how well we’re caring for ourselves in the process. Isaiah 40:11 reveals that God is tenderhearted to those needing nourishment; for just as he considers and protects the flocks of his field, he shows gentleness to those requiring sustenance for the journey ahead (Isaiah 40:11).
As you return to healthy coping strategies, swap out quick fixes with options that better sustain you over the long haul. Choose healthy foods that fuel your body instead of crashing it. Increase your water intake and minimize caffeine consumption to decrease stress and promote better sleep. Lastly, increase blood flow by getting your body in the habit of moving. Try going for a brisk walk to improve clarity, release stress and improve sleep.
3. Participate in Joy-Sparking Endeavors
As a caregiver, we also hold the realities of all other aspects of life. Unfortunately we’re not excused from paying the bills, managing the schedules, keeping a job or cleaning the toilet. And when it’s all said and done, some days are literally all work and no play.
However, we cannot sustain this type of lifestyle for very long. New and long seasons of caretaking will tempt us to cut out every fun and pleasing activity in order to make room for more work, sleeplessness, and stress.
One way to help ourselves out of this rut is to identify and implement a hobby. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Reading a book
- Meeting up with a friend for tea or coffee
- Color by number books
- Going to the movies
- Doing a puzzle
Pick one that interests you and don’t be afraid to change it up as you go.
4. Refresh in nature.
When the days are long and overwhelm threatens to swallow us whole, immersing ourselves in nature is a surefire way to reset our empathy while warding off further exacerbation. When we’re sitting at the bedside, serving the next meal or cleaning up the mess, it’s hard to see past the tensions of what we feel inside and the responsibilities we hold on the outside. Our tiredness, sadness, anger, guilt and fear are only as loud as the context we allow them to dwell in.
But when we carry them outside, by the water, under the stars or in a field of wildflowers, our eyes are forced to behold a new context. Instead of our stresses staring us in the face, we place ourselves in the larger context of Creation. In this place, beauty, worship, dreaming and gratitude can take root. What once was overshadowed by fatigue and sorrow, is now offered up with a newfound hope.
5. Ask for help.
As the caretaker, your role will involve delegation of both services and needs, so thinking through what will be most helpful will save you in the long run. Instead of waiting until you’ve reached burnout, let’s go ahead and implement some safeguards for you and your family ahead of time.
Helpful boundaries to consider:
- Identify and ask one person to be your point of contact. They can field questions and give updates to extended family and friends while you tend to your family’s immediate needs.
- Take people up on their offers to help. Ask someone to sit in car line, pick up your groceries, clean your house, fold your laundry or stay the night so you can have uninterrupted sleep.
- Connect with a counselor or therapist.
- Find a peer support group in your community.
Our seasons of caregiving are often without parameters of time, intensity or certainty. And as we pour out of ourselves to protect, advocate and love those in our care, it’s okay to be intentional about caring for ourselves too.
Monet Carpenter invites women to grow in wholeness despite brokenness through purposed grieving, purposed serving and purposed praying. She’s married to Josh and momma to two in Prattville, Alabama. A former nurse, Monet found herself suddenly caregiving again after her husband’s serious accident—this time for her son, injured husband and daughter on the way. livingandlovingwhole.com IG@monet.carpenter