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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Self-Care for Caregivers: Tips and Tools Chapter One

Every caregiver needs a toolkit to prevent or remedy compassion fatigue.  Here's several ideas for self-care to keep you in balance.  Some require time, practice, or props; some can be done in seconds during a meeting. Many of these have been covered in previous blogs and portions are reprinted or linked below.  The best of what I know is in these hyperlinks; it's a lot to read but I hope you'll dip in.

Managing the Monkey Mind 
     Oh the nerves, the nerves; the mysteries of this machine called man! Oh the little that unhinges it, poor creatures that we are! --Charles Dickens

 Don't suffer twice. When we worry about something in our future, (and there's nothing to be done about it) it's a lose-lose situation. If it happens, we get to suffer twice. If it doesn't, we worry for nothing.

 Mind your stories. A Swedish proverb says: Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. We can tell ourselves pretty alarming stories that have no real basis in probability. Check for facts. How many times have planes crashed at PDX today? This week? This year? Chances are that same pilot who's already landed the plane safely 8 times this week will also do fine today. 

Take a breath. When we are fretting, we are often literally holding our breath. We don't breathe out all the used up air, and we end up in a bit of an oxygen deficit-- which does nothing to soothe our anxiety. Try "box breathing"-- take as much time to breath out as in, and make sure to pause for a reasonable time between inhalation and exhalations.  For more info on the power of breath, click here.

Get some distraction action. Since what you feed (your mind) grows, look for healthier places to invest. Listen to some music, taste a lemon, do some art.   Here's some info on how music can heal:  http://www.janasvoboda.org/2011/01/resolution-24-make-joyful-noise.html

Fire up a more logical part of your brain. Think of your brain like a power grid. If one part-- say that pesky amydala, which is all about emotion-- is all lit up, chances are the areas that access logic and reason are a bit dimmed down. Shift the resources by engaging in a few minutes of algebra, or even sudoku. Firing up those neurons will take a load off. 

Accept your emotions and remember they are transient and (in their moment) valid, so judgment isn't helpful.  (More here).   But feelings aren't facts-- or based on them-- so you don't have to react to them. Let them rise up, use them as data, and let them pass.  
Befriend your body.  Give it some rest, good food and some exercise.  Exercise is a chance to dump all those fight-or-flight chemicals that have nowhere to be of use, and it's neurogenerative too-- rebuilds those brains cells that stress kills off. 
Use Visualization:  here's two I like.  1) Imagine yourself as a mountain, fully rooted and stable, big and strong.  The yoga pose Tadasana is all about this rootedness but I find just imagining the way I feel in this pose is nearly as good as doing it-- and a lot more reasonable if I'm in the middle of a tense meeting.    2)  Imagine you have a Teflon force field and all that negative stuff just slides off away from you.  Don't pick it up!

When we are stressed, our self-talk and thinking can spiral in bad directions.  Here's an except about getting that in line.
Don't feed Ethel.

Most of us have a loud and annoying bully in our head who tells us Bad Scary Stuff.  I've decided to name it "Ethel".  Please forgive me if you are or have an Ethel in your life that you love.

Ethel says things like:  "You can't do it.  You're a loser.  Why try?  You don't deserve to (fill in the blank:  be happy, healthy, out of debt, in a good relationship)."  She tells lots of scary stories with an authority that is quite convincing.  Ethel gets bigger and stronger every time you listen to her.  

When that doubting voice shows up, don't even bother talking back.  It's OK to talk to yourself.  (Tip:  Unless you're alone, don't do it out loud.) Tell yourself: "That's just Ethel, doing her deal."  Tell yourself some facts, like "I've been scared before and done fine anyway."  Or "I don't really know how this will turn out, and I won't know anything more if I don't try."  When Ethel has no attention, she tends to wander off.

Make use of the healing power of nature.  It's restorative, restful, oxygenating, and less impinging.  Take a walk in a forest, lay on a beach, wander a meadow.

Lighten the heck up! Yes, life is full of suffering.  As Buddha says, One life: ten thousand joys, ten thousand sorrows.  Make sure you are getting the joy part in.  Read more about play and laughter-- then get some.

Don't forget the importance of community On the whole, Americans have never been lonelier than we are in the "connected" age.  Online isn't enough.  We need real people who can really see us and accept us for who we are, warts and all.  We need touch (more on this in a coming article), witness, and to know that if we need tangible help there is someone who will.  If you are feeling isolated, know at least that you are in good company and there are others like you wanting to connect.  Take the risk and reach out.  
Reset your happiness baseline by shaking up your routine and practicing gratitude.   Learn more about happiness research here  and in this blog on Happy Factors.

Remember that YOU COUNT TOO!
Most natural caregivers cannot help but attend to the needs of others.  They would never intentionally neglect a being in need of attention, love and kindness.  Except for themselves. 
They-- you?-- need to remember the Silver Rule:  Treat yourself as you would have others treated.  And as Thom Ruttledge says, remember "You are not an exception to the rule that nobody's perfect."  So give yourself a break, some love, a kindness.  Acknowledge and accept your human limitations and feet of clay.  "Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others."

And that's important.  Because if you burn out, there is one less person who to help.
Take care of yourself, sweetheart.
photos for this blog taken at this year's Oregon Country Fair, now in its 42nd year of creative community.


Janice Melland, RN/LSCSW said...

BRILLIANT!!!!What a high density post! As to the intrusive, nattering worry tapes: I try to extract any possible ACTIONS and quickly get about actualizing those and then put rigid boundaries around the buzzing second-guessing tapes in my head. Do NOT confuse obsessing with actually DOING something to address the concern. Yes, the airlines have it right...you can't save anyone else if you forget to fuel yourself.

Kiesa Kay said...

There's a lovely book on this title TRAUMA STEWARDSHIP that you might enjoy a lot. It's by Laura Van Dermoot Lipsky with Connie Burk.