Caregiver Burnout Prevention Goes Virtual
Over a dozen family caregivers joined Kate King, a psychologist who focuses on helping older adults and their families, and Carly Kascak Conole, Springwell Caregiver Specialist for a virtual workshop to learn techniques to alleviate symptoms of stress that come from caregiving. While it might seem that a virtual workshop would be a difficult way for caregivers to connect with each other and learn tips for relaxing, this one successfully accomplished that in one hour.
Imagine being asked to reflect deeply on the questions, “What have you noticed about yourself since you became a caregiver? What impact has caregiving had on you?” When Dr. King asked these questions, and made space for the answers, attendees shared that they were physically and mentally exhausted, had difficulty making time to take care of themselves, felt guilt, and that they often felt stressed. Participants revealed that their stress led to different symptoms for each of them including shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle tension, a pit in the stomach, mind racing, loss of sleep and an overall tension.
After opening the workshop up to the discussion of difficult feelings, Dr. King validated participant experiences, assuring attendees that their feelings are to be expected. “Caregiving is a chronic stress experience due to the unpredictability and uncontrollability that exists daily. The role of a caregiver requires vigilance to closely manage the wellbeing of a loved one. It requires always being ready for an emergency.”
Once participants had a chance to connect in their shared experience as caregivers, Dr. King had a base from which to offer concrete, realistic solutions. How can caregivers manage their stress to avoid depleting their own physical or mental health? Too often stress reduction recommendations burden the caregiver more because they don’t have time to add more to their day. What can a caregiver do regularly that truly takes minimal time?
King suggested a 2-3-minute guided meditation and led one for the group. What, meditate while on a virtual conference? In this online workshop, everyone was willing to try. After just two minutes of Kate’s soothing cues for this progressive muscle relaxation technique, participants shared that they felt better. Dr. King emphasized that this option is accessible to anyone, even if you don’t have access to a workshop: an online search for “progressive muscle relaxation meditation” will help you find some to try. “Finding little moments to pause will reduce stress. Integrating these tools into our daily life can provide micro moments of relaxation that will help a caregiver.”
Most can find a couple of minutes daily to improve their wellbeing. King went on to share three more tools to reduce stress:
- A self-assessment tool is a questionnaire that helps a caregiver tune in to their current stress level. King suggests completing the questionnaire periodically to help figure out ways that stress manifests and “what symptoms let you know you need to reduce feelings of stress in order to maintain your health.” (A free self-assessment questionnaire is available by contacting Carly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-972-5697)
- A self-compassion break is a three-step 30 second tool that can be used during a stressful situation, such as a trip to the emergency room with your loved one. The first step is to be mindful – notice what you are feeling. Then connect to the reality that what you are going through is a common human experience. You are not alone in this situation; others are also caring for a sick or aging loved one and having a similar experience. The third step is to offer yourself a moment of kindness. It may be a word or phrase offering kindness to yourself.
- Self-talk is important in taking care of yourself. “As you hear the words of stress chatter through your mind, coach yourself in ways that calm, soothe and settle. Think about the positive benefits of being a caregiver in relationship to your strengths and values of being a loving, caring person.”
The workshop concluded with a reminder from Carly that Springwell’s Caregiver Support Program helps caregivers solve problems, reduce stress, and maintain overall physical and emotional health. Carly encouraged caregivers to reach out to Springwell to participate in this free program offering individual support. Dr. King offers a variety of virtual self-care workshops and relaxation practices. Learn more at her website: www.drkateking.com.