The Importance of Relaxation for Family Caregivers

Thinking back to when I was growing up, I remember my mom using the saying “the dog days of summer” to describe the heat of August when it got a little too much to bear. Looking back on those hot summer days, they were just snippets of time where I was taught about relaxation.

We did not have air conditioning, but were definitely fortunate enough to have a backyard pool. “Go swimming, sit in front of the fan or just sit still” were some of the things me and my brothers and sisters would hear our mom say.

My parents owned a roofing company and some of my greatest memories were my dad pulling into the carport after a long hot day on a roof, undressing down to his underwear and jumping into the backyard pool. Another fond memory was when the heat of the day robbed him of an appetite and our dinner would consist of banana splits, and as long as we ate the banana, it was justified.

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Relaxation for Family Caregivers Is Easier Said Than Done

For me, relaxation is what you make it to be. At Hope Grows, we always tell our caregivers about the importance of taking care of self. I think we can all agree how valuable it is to recharge. I think we can also agree it is easier said than done, especially when you have more to do in your day than you have time for, like the tasks and demands of taking care of someone.

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I think we become afraid to relax or engage in self-care, because if we let down, we may falter. Somewhere in our evolution as a civilized society, we have lost sight of the genuine art of rest.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master, global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, once said, “We worry too much.” I agree with him, we seem to have forgotten how to allow our body, mind and soul to heal and to be at peace. His powerful teachings are focused around using meditation and mindfulness to bring us back to self, so that we can learn, in our hour of need, what to do and what not to do to help ourselves.

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The Dangers of Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

When we don’t relax, compassion fatigue and burnout can become the result. Burnout is a “psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment” (Maslach, 1982; Maslach & Goldberg, 1998; Maslach & Leiter, 2003) and the “chronic condition of perceived demands outweighing perceived resources” (Gentry & Baranowsky, 1998).

Compassion Fatigue refers to the physical, emotional, or spiritual exhaustion affecting a caregiver and it can interfere with one’s ability to feel joy or empathy. One can have both and although compassion fatigue is different from burnout, the tools to fixing them are the same. 

Hope Grows can help detect these issues by way of assessments of fatigue, satisfaction, burnout and resilience. The longer one waits to seek help, the longer it will take to recover. Once detected, motivation for change and putting a high priority on self-care is key, all things that Hope Grows can help with. 

One of my simple analogies is, “If the gardener ignores the weeds, the harder they are to remove and they begin to take over the garden, which, in turn, can diminish the growth of the plant, hence causing a less fruitful harvest.” One of the things we stress here at Hope Grows is connecting with nature and reaching out for support. You can call our Intake Care Specialists and Care Counselors to take a quick assessment to detect any issues with compassion fatigue or burnout.

Keep in mind though, when we feel as if we cannot take a break, that is truly when we need it the most. So, stop and relax for a snippet of time. Consider stepping outside for a minute or two and take at least a #shortbreak. Our short breaks here at Hope Grows take less than 5 minutes. Stand in silence and breathe in nature that is all around you: the earth, the sky, and yes, even the rain, if that is what nature is giving you. Don’t judge it, accept it, and try to mindfully become a part of your outdoor surroundings. Also, keep in mind that the healing perspective for the soul is focused around rest and laughter. Someone once said that it is the “most spiritual and subversive act of all,” So, go ahead, I challenge you, to “laugh, rest, slow down,” and above all, go out into nature.

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