Care work is often under-valued and underpaid – if there is any remuneration at all. And yet, what could be more important? Society is built around the ideal of caring for one another, especially those who are sick, disabled or elderly, and children.
Whether paid or unpaid, care work can be physically taxing and mentally demanding. You need compassion, patience and empathy in order to do it well. Especially if the person you care for seem irritable, ungrateful or critical of your efforts. It takes maturity to put their reaction into context.
Are they in pain? Depressed? Or overcome by feelings of helplessness and frustration because they can no longer do things for themselves? Chances are these feelings have nothing whatsoever to do with you.
Nevertheless, it takes its toll. That’s why it’s essential for care-givers to take good care of themselves as well. Everyone knows the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
With the United Nations Assembly having declared 29 October to be the new International Day of Care and Support, the end of the year is the perfect time to step back and see where and how you can make time to ‘refill your cup’ … to refresh and re-energise body and soul. You’ll benefit from a little self-care and so will the person you care for.
1. Understand that what you feel is completely natural
Every care worker feels isolated and overwhelmed at times. These feeling don’t mean that you are a failure or unsuited to the work. You are an amazing human being doing an amazing job! But that doesn’t mean you’re immune from exhaustion, self-doubt and anxiety. It just means that you need to rest.
2. Stop feeling guilty
Especially if you are caring for a loved one, you may feel selfish or guilty for craving a moment of respite. Or you may be afraid that others will judge you if you take an hour or a morning ‘off’.
The truth is that no one has the right to judge you or make you feel guilty. You know what your limits are, and they may not be the same as someone else’s. If you need a break, take it. Ignoring your own well-being can lead to a depletion of energy, joy and enthusiasm, making it challenging to meet the needs of those you care for.
3. Recognise your triggers
Every care worker’s journey is unique, and stress affects each person differently. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to self-care. Learn to recognise your own triggers for burnout and develop a coping strategy to deal with feelings as they arise.
4. Take a break
Taking short breaks throughout the day or night can help prevent burnout. Use your ‘time out’ to relax with a cup of tea or coffee, check your social media, meditate, pray, or flip through a magazine – whatever activity helps you to stop and refocus on something that lifts your spirits.
If you’re able to take a longer break, go for a walk, visit the gym, enjoy a bubble bath, or read a book. Don’t forget to nurture other relationships in your life and socialise with friends.
5. Explore Support Services
While you might believe no one can care for your loved one as well as you can, it’s crucial to explore support services. In emergencies or when you need extended time off, consider professional caregiver services such as Tafta’s Home Based Care.
6. Hone your skills
If you’re new to care work, find out if there are training opportunities to help you learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ – e.g. how to give your loved one a bed bath, or how to change the sheets while they are lying in bed.
Numerous organisations offer training for those caring for older people and people with disabilities. You can also consider joining a support group to connect with other care workers who understand your challenges, and can offer valuable advice and companionship.
7. Ask for Help
If feelings of anxiety and depression persist, don’t hesitate to seek professional counselling. You may also find practicing mindfulness or meditation helpful. Or reach out to organisations like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
8. Celebrate Your Dedication
Remind yourself that your role as a caregiver is valuable. You should feel proud of the impact you’re making in someone else’s life! Keep motivational quotes or kind words from others to read again whenever you need to boost your self-esteem.
Care work can lead to a deeper appreciation for life’s blessings and often brings unexpected rewards … a smile or sincere ‘thank you’ that underscores the value of your efforts and fills your heart with joy.
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