Joyce volunteers once a week at a hospice in-patient unit, offering support to families by answering questions and lending a caring ear. She is surprised to see how many people are part of the healthcare team, not only doctors and nurses but also chaplains, social workers, music therapists, and CNAs (certified nursing assistants). She is inspired by their expertise and compassion. But what Joyce begins to observe over the months of her time as a volunteer is a subtle yet palpable malaise in the form of fatigue, irritability, and raw emotions among her colleagues.
Marybeth is filled with joy. She has just returned home from the hospital with her third child. Her husband is involved and supportive, and big brothers are delighted with their new sibling. Underneath, however, is a subconscious desire to be the perfect mother. Over time, Marybeth begins to feel totally exhausted, impatient, and emotionally fragile, and says to her husband, “I feel as if every ounce of my energy has been completely sucked dry.”
John and Louise have been married for 53 years. They have had many ups and downs but their commitment to one another remains strong. For the past 12 years, Louise’s health has been in a slow decline, leaving all of the daily responsibilities for shopping, cooking, cleaning, and coordinating Louise’s doctors’ appointments to John. He does his best to deal with these unfamiliar demands, but is thinking he doesn’t have the stamina to keep it up. He resents that all this extra work has been dumped on him, and feels guilty for being resentful. His life is on a steady downward spiral and he doesn’t see any way out.
What we’re talking about here is caregiver burnout. The symptoms are very similar to depression, starting with irritability and physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It can lead to:
- changes in appetite and sleep
- increased vulnerability to illness
- increased use of alcohol and/or sleep medications
- loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
- withdrawal from friends and family.
With caregiver burnout life can feel hopeless.
The root cause in all of this is an energetic imbalance between output and input.
Healing Touch is an effective way to find relief from these symptoms and even prevent caregiver burnout. It includes methods for stimulating the relaxation response, resulting in a host of physiological and psychological benefits. Clearing blockages and restoring balance in the energy system helps caregivers approach their responsibilities in a more positive light.
Whether you are in a care-giving profession, or helping a loved one, there are a few important questions to consider:
Are you giving more than receiving?
Are you constantly focused on caring for others?
Do you forget to take care of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs?
Do you feel guilty when addressing self care?
It is also important to recognize that psychological factors can exacerbate the issues. In our vignettes, Joyce was observing something very common in the emotionally challenging hospice environment: doctors who are pressured to see too many patients with not enough time, and nurses who are understaffed and overburdened with paperwork. Marybeth was placing unrealistic expectations and demands on herself and failing to recognize the significance of postpartum hormonal fluctuations. John was possibly dealing with role confusion and feeling a lack of control due to strained finances.
Often, we don’t recognize when we are suffering from burnout. Whenever I am working with a client in these situations, I make a referral to a therapist who can help identify and unravel these patterns.
At some point in our life we all take on the role of caregiver, and it is easy to fall into the trap of burnout. Like a checking account, if we continually withdraw money without making any deposits, our account will eventually become overdrawn and subject to fines.
What I learned from Joyce is that this can happen to anyone. Awareness is the first step. Marybeth worked her way out of it by tapping into the support of her husband and making the decision to nap when her children were napping instead of worrying about cleaning the house. John found an adult daycare center for Louise and joined a support group at a local senior center.
My plan for today is to take a walk at the Botanic Garden and let the beauty of nature revitalize my body and spirit. How about you?