Recently I have been hearing from many people about the stress they are experiencing as a result of being in caretaking roles. The post below was originally written for caregivers but the same dynamic described that results in burnout could be applied to folks who “care too much” in their professional lives. Anywhere that we expend more energy than we take in can be fertile ground for an energy crisis.
Caring for others, be it an elderly parent, a relative, a child, or a friend, is one of the highest forms of human service. However, altruism aside, caring for others often means that you put their needs before your own. You set aside your desires and wishes for another day, a day when you’ll have the luxury of time to spend by yourself and on yourself. It is a day you dream about and yearn for.
In the meantime, you give and give and give. You begin to wear down and out. Energy and enthusiasm wanes as you become physically exhausted and emotionally drained. It may seem that the more you give, the more that is requested or required of you. It becomes harder to keep up and maintain your pace. Your nerves wear thin. You begin to do less and less for yourself. Periodically you wonder, “Where is there care for me?” You may begin to ask: “What’s happened to me, to my life?” Worse yet, you may feel guilty for having those thoughts!
A continuous outflow of energy through giving without refueling or replenishing yourself cannot possibly end up anywhere but in fatigue and burnout. It is then that resentment can set in not to mention damage to your own health. You must stop and refuel in order to keep going.
Each of us can only give away what we have. Humans are adaptable and it may seem that we can give from nothing, or run along on empty for quite a time, but the truth is that the bill for such behavior will eventually come due. It may seem ironic that as a caregiver you need to put yourself first. However, it is truly the only way to assure a reserve of energy to care for others without creating problems for you! Regular self care and self nurture is essential to create the inner resources that allow for a constant and even flow of energy for both you and the ones you love.
You may think that you don’t have time to care for yourself while caring for others. The reality is you don’t have time not to since a lack of self care will always lead to a depletion of inner resources. Your typical pattern may be to become depleted, crash and then have to recharge in order to begin again. You may be aware of this pattern and feel that it’s okay. Perhaps when you’re down and out, care comes flowing in from a variety of sources. Finally, people may realize that you need attention too. They may also leave you alone thus creating the time you need to rebuild your reserve and to rebalance yourself. The problem with this approach is (1) you already entered a state that plays havoc with your health; (2) there is a tendency with this pattern to recharge and once again begin the rollercoaster ride so it is honestly not a solution.
Your life does not have to be a roller coaster of ups and downs. You can create a fairly smooth path through your life with a few simple tools and skills. It is possible to build an inner core of energy that can serve as your wellspring. Development of this core strength will give you resilience and enable you to be more easily present to life and to others. Being centered within this core allows you to maintain a healthier balance in all areas of your life. As a result, you will be able to move forward with stamina and purpose, but also quietly retreat to nourish your mind, body and spirit when necessary.
Do you have a balance of expended and replenished energy?