Without gas in your own tank, you can’t help anyone else. That’s the difficult reality of being an ongoing support person for someone facing illness. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a close family member, the stress involved in caregiving can be draining, both physically and emotionally. This is especially magnified when the patient is a child.
“To meet the challenge of caring, you must find balance on your helping journey, balance between the demands you face and the resources you have to meet them, between giving to others and giving to yourself,” says Dale Larson, Ph.D., in his book The Helper’s Journey: Working with People Facing Grief, Loss, and Life-Threatening Illness.
Larson is a professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University and writes that balance is important so that you don’t become depleted and weaken your own immune system. He found that strengthened social support networks and support groups are two important antidotes for healthcare professionals and are just as important for family members as well. Open communication and self-disclosure as well as sharing your feelings and worries with empathetic colleagues, family, or friends can relieve you, and increase more positive feelings which come with connecting to others.
Family members who are caregivers carry an emotional burden that can be intense. This KidsHealth article has a very helpful list of tips for parents who are caregivers. Take breaks, ask for help, find other caregivers, trust your instincts, get outdoors, exercise, and try to laugh. Also, learn as much as you can about your child’s illness and about caregiving. This will help you feel more in control and decrease your anxiety.
We are of course big proponents of journaling, so that can be one way of unburdening yourself if a sympathetic ear is not immediately available to you. Getting your feelings out, whether in writing or verbally, can decrease stress. Taking care of the caregiver ultimately helps the patient.