You love helping loved ones, but it’s sometimes overwhelming. Being a giver takes a lot of energy, but there are ways to protect yourself and make sure that you don’t end up pouring from an empty cup. Here, we share some easy ways to recharge from caregiving stress and celebrate your heart.
It’s okay to be mad.
Anger is one of the most misunderstood emotions caregivers struggle with. “One woman told me she resented her mom because she needed her help to go to the bathroom,” recalls expert Amy Goyer. “But she wasn’t really angry with her mom — she was angry at the situation. Ask yourself, What am I actually upset about?” This refocuses your emotions, allowing you to problem-solve, be it brainstorming caregiving stress tips with people online or asking your doctor for advice.
You’re doing enough.
“It can feel like even if you had superpowers and could dance on the moon, you still wouldn’t be enough,” admits Goyer. “But everything you do does make a difference.” In fact, a wise friend once told her something she still holds dear: Don’t should on yourself. As in, when you find yourself saying, should do more, ask, Why do I feel guilty if I take time for myself? Is it because your parents may need something when you’re away? If so, can you, say, ask a neighbor to check in? Discovering what you have the power to change and what you can’t dissipates guilt.
Breathe away shame.
Fear, grief, irritability — there’s not a single emotion you should be ashamed of, says meditation expert Sharon Salzberg. “The key is connecting to your feelings without judgment,” explaining that we can use our breath to take that first step. “As one of my teachers said, ‘Your breath is portable ’ — you can access it anywhere, so just breathe in.” This distances you from untrue “add-on” thoughts, such as, I’m sad…and I’ll feel like this forever. As you exhale, let these go, and with them, the unfair expectations you put on yourself.
Be kind to you.
Tap ‘heart wisdom.’
Compassion includes yourself, says expert Shauna Shapiro, Ph.D. “Think of it like your heart: It pumps blood to itself before the rest of your body, as it can’t give without taking care of itself.”
Self-compassion is treating ourselves as we would a dear friend who is suffering. “We not only grow from our struggles, we connect with the struggles of others and realize we’re all in this together.”
Recall your passions.
When Salzberg counseled workers on the cusp of burnout at a women’s shelter, she asked, What in the past gave you respite? They wrote answers like music and taking walks ; they also wrote how they felt about past pastimes. Of spending time in nature, one wrote, I haven’t done it in seven years. “We all have tools of resilience, we’re just not using them—think of what lifted you in the past and let it give you strength today.”
Give yourself space.
It’s helpful to create what Salzberg calls a “culture of wellness” that lets you think of taking time for yourself, not as a luxury, but as a way of life. One woman she worked with started by taking a lunch break a few days a week. This “culture” doesn’t even have to be in the physical world: “It can live within you in the form of mindfulness.” Being hard on yourself doesn’t get you anywhere, she says. “Self-compassion gets you so much farther.”
We hope these tips for caregiving stress give you the peace you need — and deserve.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.