The Depleted Caregiver
I don’t have to look very far to find caregivers who are giving so much to others that they’re beginning to feel as though they have nothing left for themselves: A colleague of mine appears overwhelmed form working two jobs. A teacher is charged with managing a classroom full of rowdy kids all day while coping internally with the stress that he won’t have a job next year due to budget cuts. There there are the numerous aging women in my life who are caring for their elderly family members. Many of them experienced only a brief pause between raising their own children before the senior generation required their support.
Care giving and becoming depleted are not phenomena exclusive to females. There are countless men who, as a result of their own unique circumstances, are faced with significant demands to care for others. Yet informal and unpaid care giving often falls upon women. Additionally, the paid nurturing professions such as nursing, education and mental health continue to be occupied by more females than males. All three of these professions have been reported to be “in crisis” recently, undoubtedly impacting the individuals employed in these fields and increasing their risk for developing caregiver burnout.
Depletion can occur when the demands one faces are greater than the intrinsic or monetary rewards brought about by their responsibilities. The exchange of energy given and energy received is out of balance. A felt sense that one has no choice over the amount of time or energy they must invest caring for others can be another risk factor. Many professional caregivers find themselves reaching burn out when stressors arise at home and at work simultaneously, making it difficult to find a place to reenergize themselves.
If you are feeling exhausted and stretched too thin, this Mother’s Day may be the perfect time to give yourself the gift of restoration. First, identify those things that replenish your energy and find a way to make them happy more frequently. Secondly, seek out those people who support you when you are tapped out and allow yourself to be on the receiving end of some of their nurturing. (And by all means, hire a professional nurturer like a therapist if your social support is too thin these days!) Finally, look for ways to push back on the floodgates of demands coming at you. Many caregivers are so accustomed to putting the needs of others first that they struggle to establish healthy boundaries for themselves. Yet when you focus on filling up your own soul first, your energy can then more easily and abundantly overflow to reach those around you.
Happy Mother’s Day, ladies! Be good to yourselves.