Four simple words that can help to get you through stress, overwhelm, and exhaustion before you burn out beyond return.
Why the fuss? Isn't stress normal?
Stress and burn out can occur in a diverse set of situations, some that may seem trivial to one and gigantic to another. Carers quite often suffer at some point with burn out from continual stress, both physical and mental. The guilt that comes with feeling this exhaustion, the thoughts of wanting to escape, the feeling that you’re trapped with no option but to stay, along with the pressure to carry on and not let a loved one down, are a few factors that contribute to many carers not speaking out when they are struggling. Another huge factor is the lack of physical help available, which often means people don’t see the benefit in seeking emotional support because they can’t rest and recover anyway.
There is one thing that is a common denominator in every stressful ongoing situation: burn out is inevitable if something doesn’t change.
Stress is no light matter. Stress is strongly evidenced with connections to poor physical health implications. It can increase your chances of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, and affects your immune system leaving you more vulnerable to becoming unwell in general and run down. Let us also not forget that no wrinkle cream actually works!
Burn out is difficult to come back from. Your mental health is at an all time low, along with your physical health needing some attention too. Your mental resistance can become lower and you may struggle to cope with as much stress as you perhaps could have before. This can also deeply affect someone’s self-esteem and pride, as I found out with my Dad.
Many carers don’t think that burn out will happen to them, if they just ‘keep going’, but we all have a vulnerability and the important thing to know is that it’s OK and NEVER a weakness or reflection on your strength. The other problem with burn out is that you can begin to resent your situation, or feel bitter towards others who perhaps don’t have the same stresses, responsibilities or restrictions as you.
You can start to resent your loved one, become a little more frustrated and shorter tempered. It’s only natural – we’re all human. By looking after yourself a little, you can most certainly enjoy the time with them a bit more.
To be a carer in the first place makes you an incredibly selfless person, don’t ever be hard on yourself when you’ve tried your hardest. You’re all unsung heroes.
Campaign For My Brain’s 4 step solution:
Over sleeping, under sleeping, change in appetite, weight change, short temper, avoiding social situations, apathy, or over emotional. All of these are signs of overwhelm and near burn out. If you wake up in the morning and can’t see how you’re going to get through it, you need to RECOGNISE these signs and ACCEPT that you’re struggling. It isn’t normal to feel this way, and it’s not ok to carry on with no self-care or self-love in sight. YOU are the most important person in this desperate situation. Without you, all falls down.
Ask yourself what would happen if you vanished that day forever? What would happen if you ran away? You know you can’t run away which is part of what creates your isolation. So if staying is the only option, it is important to ensure that you are well in yourself, and introduce some simple, small things to improve both your mental and physical resilience.
“Recognition of one’s own vulnerabilities will only allow their strengths to come through and heal them”.
“Shout if you need anything”.
“You know where I am”.
“If I can help in any way, let me know?”.
How many times have to heard these three lines? More importantly, how many times have you actually taken them up on their offer? No one can understand what you’re going through, your experience is unique to you and your situation has its very own reasons for isolating you.
However, many people DO want to help. They might not offer the help you want but a dinner made, a shop done for you, a house clean, a coffee break. Small acts of kindness can make a huge difference to your day. ASK you friends, most friends would find a way to offer some sort of help or comfort. ASK your GP about local services, or carer’s charities (there are several). ASK about local community groups. ASK your neighbours to grab you that bit of shopping. ASK your family to come and visit – don’t allow it to be avoided through the polite awkwardness that makes people avoid these situations.
Of course, the world is not full of purely kind people and you may not always get the help that you’d hoped for, but if you ask one person, and they do something to help, then nothing has been lost. For every few that won’t help you, there will be one that will.
My good friend Catrin, who will be a big part of this campaign, felt so isolated that she felt she couldn’t tell anyone how desperate she was for a break when caring for her Dad in the difficult stages of Huntington’s Disease. She wanted to run away, she wanted the world to take her away as she felt her situation would resolve if she wasn’t here. Guess what? The help came too late, she burnt out, and suffered a long recovery afterwards. She will now advocate asking for help and talking as the first thing to do.
“Don’t ask, don’t get”.
Acceptance. That word is truly difficult and covers so much ground.
Acceptance of your situation so you can embrace what there is of it. Acceptance of offers of help, big or small, they’re all significant. Acceptance that you’re struggling. Acceptance that your mood is low. Acceptance that you need help. Acceptance that you can’t do it alone. Acceptance that you’re not invincible.
Most of all, acceptance that it’s OK NOT TO BE OK. Don’t accept that you’re weak, and not strong enough, and not able to do what you promised. Don’t accept that you’ve let someone down, or that there isn’t a way out.
Accept that you’re AMAZING, and that you’ve dug deep when times were hard and had the strength to keep going. Accept that by asking for help, you’re going to improve your quality of life and the life of your loved one. Accept that there are good, kind people in this world who will always give you time (local churches are always amazing for this type of kindness). Accept that you’re WORTHY of having some time to yourself, and that it is NEVER selfish no matter how strong that guilt creeps in.
“Acceptance of your situation can give you a more objective view that allows you to embrace, plan, move forward and carry on”.
The hardest part is change: no one likes change, it’s scary right? It’s a risk. Stepping out of your comfort zone and what you’re used to. Time is precious, and small amounts of time may seem ‘pointless’ or insignificant, but just 5 minutes of mindfulness and meditation a day can reap several benefits.
Meditation is proven to reduce stress, and will give you physical relaxation, with a chance for your mind to be elsewhere. If this 5 minutes can only be done when you climb into bed at night, do it. Commit. Meditation can also help you to focus and be in tune with how you’re feeling. If a friend has offered to help, modify your week and make a plan to get out of the house for a walk, coffee, a drive. Anything to break that pattern.
Something my family find useful is finding activities to do with my Mum, so that all of our time with her isn’t as a carer. It’s as a family. Whether that’s a walk with the wheelchair around the block, modified baking, music, painting, dancing, a film. There are so many things you can do to engage with someone who is cognitively or physically impaired, it can help you to remember who they were before the illness, instead of defining them by what they’ve become. Old photo albums, a memory map of your lives. Countless ideas that can bring you both joy and take away the focus from the daily chores of being a carer.
Please know that this is all from my experience as a health care professional, and a carer. I appreciate this may not help everyone, but if it helps just ONE person then my job is done.
“Often the biggest changes to help a situation, are the changes in yourself”.