Straight from a Caregiver's Heart
By Lisa Elliott
If you’ve ever flown on a plane you’ll know the safety drill exercise. Included in this onboard presentation is an emphasis on placing the air mask on yourself before you place it on a fellow traveler. Why, you ask? Because you can’t assist someone else with breathing if you can’t breathe yourself! The same goes when we’re called to care for others.
Several years ago I had the unique and humbling opportunity to speak at an Alzheimer’s Caregivers’ Conference. I was asked to address the topic, “How to Care for Yourself While You Care for Others”. I was able to draw from my years of ministry experience where my pastor-husband and I have been available for physical, emotional, and spiritual care of others. As well, I was able to speak from experience in my personal recovery from burnout.
Who knew that I’d have to apply my notes on a completely different level when I was called upon to be the primary caregiver of my teenage son as he battled leukemia. Caregiving was amped up another notch when my other son contracted a deadly disease; landing him in the same hospital, at the same time as my leukemic son. And again when, years later, my oldest daughter experienced some life-threatening complications after giving birth to our first grandchild, which required that I spend three months off-and-on caring for her and her family while she recovered. And most recently, I’ve practiced what I’ve preached as I’ve walked alongside my husband dealing with chronic pain.
My caregiving experience has not come of my own accord. I’m not a good nurse! Really! Caring for others in practical ways is not my forte. I’m more of an emotional support. If you need a Kleenex or a shoulder to cry on, I’m there for you? I’ll be sure to be there to mourn with you as your mourn. I’ve, therefore, taken good notes of those who have offered practical care during times when I’ve been on the receiving end. For instance, I sat and watched others clean my house and prepare meals and care for my children after each of my four C-sections. And then there was the extraordinary care I experienced through our son’s illness.
Regardless of whether you’re the giver or receiver, the principles I wish to share come from a place of well-rehearsed success.
If you’re in the role of a caregiver right now, before you get to this list of tips to care for yourself as you care for others, I want to identify that caring for yourself is likely not even on your radar. In fact, you’re doing well to even be taking time to read this article about now… and congratulations if you’ve made it this far! It could be that my well-intended bullet points seem more like pressure points—inflicting you rather than encouraging you. My purpose is not to overwhelm and frustrate you with suggestions. You may already be too depleted to know where to begin to care for yourself. And that’s the point! My suggestion to you, if that describes your present state, is perhaps you’d just pick one of the following points to start with. Choose one that refuels you, and make that your focus for a few weeks before adding any other self-care ideas.
Here are some ways to begin the restoration (or refueling) process:
• Claim personal boundaries: When we’re called upon as caregivers our resources are pulled from every which direction. Therefore, it’s important to know our own limitations, recognize when our resources are running low, and bunker down when our emotional reserve is bottoming out. “My boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6 ).”
• Engage in re-charging activities: In contrast to setting personal boundaries that guard your sacred space and limit your output, it’s necessary to engage in activities that re-invest and bring you joy as well as energize, replenish, and encourage you. You know what they are, but in your present situation you may not remember them. So take time to make a list as a constant reminder to you. Then be blessed as you do them! (John 13:17)
• Set attainable goals: Caring for others is absolutely draining and can often leave you feeling depleted and down with no energy or motivation. Therefore, it’s important to set goals that are attainable and easily achieved. Sometimes it’s enough to simply get out of bed! So when I say goals, I mean simple tasks like: get outside once a day or do something for yourself guilt-free! For instance make yourself a cup of tea. Take a deep breath, take the pressure off, give yourself permission… “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).”
• Set aside time for solitude: Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we all need time set aside for solitude and silence. Allowing ourselves fallow time to think, process, and simply have quiet time all to ourselves. “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).”
• Surround yourself with godly companions: We all need support—especially during difficult times. I’m not sure what I would do without some trusted friends to listen to me, pray for me, and offer practical support. The list of “one-another’s” are endless in Scripture. Love one another, care for one another, pray for one another, and on it goes. One verse that wraps it all up is Hebrews 10:25 which says, “..let us encourage one another. And all the more as the Day of Christ approaches.”
• Take advantage of proper rest: We don’t know the blessing of sleep until we are sleep deprived. Without sleep our brain malfunctions, our body is vulnerable, our perspective wanes, and our spirits plummet. Sleep is an undeniable gift from God. Take Elijah for instance: “Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again (1 Kings 19:5-6).” Keep in mind that God does the nightshift. Therefore, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).”
• Exercise: By exercise I’m not talking about an hour cardio and strength-training regimen. It could be walking up the stairs inside your home. Or perhaps going for a walk around the block. I find moving my body helps me to work out some of the negative thoughts and pent up frustrations that get stuck inside my head. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).”
• Eat a healthy diet: I don’t know too many people who don’t like to eat to comfort themselves? Comfort foods are readily available. However, the Bible would exhort us to do everything in moderation; exercising self-control. ‘You are what you eat’. So eat well and you will be well. (Enough said, otherwise I’m too convicted LOL.) “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore, whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).”
• Find a creative outlet: Our Creator created us to create! It’s amazing the therapy a little creativity will provide. Drawing, writing, carpentry, handiwork, gardening, house decorating, flower arranging, puzzle assembling. Whatever you want to create, take the opportunity to create it. It will do your mind some good! “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).”
• Be intentional about time with the Lord: As I’ve cared for others, my Bible has typically been close at hand. Time with the Lord comes in many forms: time spent in prayer, in His Word, listening to podcasts, Christian radio, worship music—anything along this line that will recharge and rejuvenate your body, mind and soul. Providing encouragement, hope, validation, and renewed perspective. Like David, learn to “encourage yourself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6).” “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ’In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15).”
Caring for yourself is not a quick-fix solution. In fact this will be a process. It’s going to take time to not only restore your body, mind, and soul, but to know what it is you actually need, not to mention recognizing that you need it to begin with. The good news is that in time, you’ll discover you’re laughing a little more, able to relax a little more often, and more readily identify some of the symptoms and signs of burnout before you’re too deep into it to do anything about it. As you implement these suggestions into your daily rhythm of life my prayer is that you will find yourself feeling stronger and better over time.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”
About this Contributor:
Lisa Elliott is an inspirational speaker and award-winning author of The Ben Ripple and Dancing in the Rain. Additionally, she has written articles for Just Between Us Magazine and devotionals for theStory. She and her pastor-husband, David, have four children (3 on earth, 1 in heaven) and serve the Lord together in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
To book Lisa for a weekend retreat or day conference contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org