Caregivers, what is your oxygen?
If you've ever been on an airplane, you've heard the safety script flight attendants go through every time.
Do you recall the part where they talk about if there's a sudden change in air cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from the compartments above you?
Do you also recall them saying what to do if you're traveling with children or other dependents? Put your OWN mask on first, get the oxygen flowing, THEN tend to your loved ones.
The instinct to help our loved ones first in an emergency situation is ingrained in our nature. But why do they tell you to get your own oxygen flowing first? Because, if our brain gets deprived of oxygen, we black-out and pretty much become useless to our loved ones. It's hard to help others when we're unconscious.
As a caregiver, I'm sure you're seeing the parallel by now. What do YOU do to ensure you get your own oxygen first? How would you expect to make the best decisions and take the necessary steps on your loved ones' behalf if you are depleted; physically, mentally and emotionally?
Neurological studies confirm when a person is under stress, the part of the brain responsible for higher decision-making; what's known as the Executive Brain, decreases significantly in its effectiveness in sifting through all the incoming information, and deciding what is a priority and what is not. In short, it - and therefore you - can more easily go into overwhelm, and end up making decisions that may not be based on an accurate assessment of available information.
Under stress, especially the chronic stress caregivers experience, chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol are running through the body. While this was a brilliant mechanism developed over millions of years to keep people safe with fight or fight responses, our lives are more chronically hectic. There seems to be no off switch, and caregivers feel this even more so.
So back to the original question. What is your oxygen?
How do you take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved ones?
Please, PLEASE don't think of yourself as an afterthought! If you are a caregiver providing a lot of time, energy, effort and, in some cases, money, you are the foundation of it all.
Not stopping and making the time to care for yourself as a caregiver you may find yourself in a crash and burn situation—maybe even ending up in the hospital yourself. It’s your body’s way to FORCE you to finally accept self-care. Whether you end up in the hospital or not, the point is, you will be out of commission. Then, who will take care of your loved one?
Please remember, there is NO rule anywhere that says you have to completely drain yourself through your caregiver role. Take the time for yourself, and take the next steps to find and put in place the support systems you need in order to claim a quality of life you desire and deserve. It is not only your obligation; it is your birthright.
And remember, just breathe.
© Nancy Glover | Aging With Grace www.AgingwithGrace.ca
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Nancy Glover, a healthy aging advocate, mentors extraordinary women and men who have stepped into the challenging role of caring for their elderly spouse or parent by managing their well-being in the later stages of life. Blending first-hand expertise with practical step by step systems to support the needs, goals, and desires of the elderly spouse or parent, Nancy helps caregivers maneuver the complex and often challenging role with supportive advocacy and resources that equally focus on everyone’s well-being. Learn more about her at www.agingwithgrace.ca and sign up to receive timely information and strategies to empower caregivers and families in transition.