Being a caregiver is a full-time job wrought with responsibility. Whether one is taking care of a grandparent, parent, or spouse, the act of caring is always a challenge - oftentimes a challenge that goes unrewarded. Days, weeks, months, and years can go by and finding the inner strength to take care of a loved one becomes even more difficult. It can leave you physically tired and emotionally drained. This is why perseverance, a positive mental attitude, and yes, even another caregiver, can help you - the caregiver- see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” -Maya Angelou
Dealing With Emotionally Draining Situations
Psychotherapists have a unique job that is similar in nature to caregiving. Individuals with careers in psychology frequently need to “take on” the emotional burdens of another. Similarly, caregivers need to be emotionally responsive, physically present, and acting in anticipation of what a person will need. Psychotherapists and caregivers exist to take on the emotional weight of another, oftentimes weaker person, who needs help from someone stronger.
A recent study found that psychotherapists are both more satisfied and more emotionally depleted than research psychologists. Psychotherapists work with people; research psychologists work by themselves in a lab. “Therapists are required to connect with, then stay close to [...] a range of clients on a regular basis” (Source). This makes their profession both more valuable and yet, more emotionally burdensome.
“Enriching and Burdening”
Like caregivers, psychotherapists have a higher chance of being burned out. They also tend to value their work as more rewarding. Psychotherapists surveyed at the end of their careers described a career that involved “coming close to other people” as both “enriching and burdening.”
To be clear -- there is a vast difference between being a professional therapist and a personal caregiver. The former sits in a chair and listens to strangers speak for 50 minutes; the latter has far more to bear. A caregiver’s tasks are far greater than those of a psychiatrist; they include running chores, preparing food, cleaning up, and checking in. The relationship a psychiatrist has with a client is thin at best, when compared to the relationship a daughter has with an ailing father, or a husband has with a wife of 45 years.
However, there are lessons that can be learned from the responsible, and emotionally burdened psychotherapist.
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?” -Juvenal, Roman Poet
Who Cares for the Caregiver?
Psychologists need treatment just like everyone else - especially after dealing with the emotional burden of clients. Luckily, in clinical psychology, there exist psychotherapists that only treat other psychotherapists.
These highly-specialized professionals understand the toll that “all that giving” can take on a person. Psychiatrists are people just like you and me, and they need someone to unload their own problems on, especially after keeping a cool, unflustered exterior. You may be feeling the same - ready to cry at a moment’s notice after you leave the nursing home and the mask comes off.
My grandfather, who was a farmer used to say, “You can only give so much until the well runs dry; if you reach down after that, you destroy the well. You need to wait until the water resurfaces.” To continue the analogy, the well is the person, the water is the resources that person has to give to his loved ones. It is finite. Draw too much and you will either need to rest and wait for rain or dig deeper.
It can be easy to forget about one’s own needs. When sons, husbands, mothers, and nieces get caught up in caring for their senior-aged parents, it can be easy to forget about caring for themselves and their personal well-being.
The conservation of resources theory states that resources are not infinite. And depending on your point of view, work can either “burn you out” or “fire you up.” Although you are ultimately caring for an individual in need, you must assume responsibility for your own health as well. Studies suggest that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed (Source). They are not taking adequate care of themselves.
There are certain things you must do in order to remain healthy:
-Regular doctor's visits
-Taking immediate action when feeling ill
Final Thoughts: Find a Caregiver (Or a Really Supportive Friend)
Yes! Just like the psychiatrist who seeks the aid of another psychiatrist, so you too should not feel ashamed in reaching out to another person for help. You have a support network of friends and close acquaintances all around you, yet chances are you are too prideful to admit you need help. Think back to how often a friend mentioned: “Are you sure there is nothing I can help with?” -- and you carried on as if everything was fine.
It’s not fine.
And it’s okay to admit so.
Those closest to you know what you are going through. Lean on their help. Task out your to-do list in smaller portions so that you do not feel drained. Perhaps one friend can help you out with insurance paperwork while another can pick up your dry cleaning. That way you do not feel overburdened with doing it all yourself.
Seeking help will draw water back in your well. Seeking help will allow you the resources you need, both for yourself and your loved one. It will allow you room to breathe and space to think. It will even allow you to mentally reframe the situation, letting you approach the relationship from a place of love --not a place where you see the person as a “to-do list.”
Meet the Author
Rob Haynie serves as Managing Director of Life Insurance Settlements, Inc. He is a noted speaker, panelist and author or contributor on the topic of life settlements in various trade journals, periodicals and press outlets across the globe. Mr. Haynie graduated from Florida State University in 1988 located in Tallahassee, Florida. He currently resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his wife of 19 years, Lauren and their identical twin daughters, Skyler and Brooke.