Cardiopulmonary Rehab professionals are devoted to the well-being of others. Regardless of the path you took to become a part of this caring profession, your work either touches upon or is completely tied to helping patients gain strength and confidence after some of the most frightening, destabilizing days they may have ever known. Yours is not a profession that intrinsically emphasizes self. You may even feel guilty when you consider doing something totally for yourself—it can feel selfish and even unkind.
Get over it.
Truly, if you are not rested and feeling at your best, your ability to manage your stress levels, your frustration and your patience will all be seriously impaired. While you may be aware of this fact, how often do you act on it? Although I’m not a professional caregiver, I was a full-time caregiver to my mother. One of the gifts I gave myself as my mother’s caregiver was twice monthly neck/back massages. It cost me about $25 and it was money well spent. I have never been a “spa person” so this was something new for me. All I knew was that I was getting more migraines and it felt like knives were piercing the back of my neck and top of my spine. It was just incredible how much better I felt after spending just 20 minutes getting a massage:
- Physically—the tight muscles were loosened and allowed to relax
- Mentally—I could zone out and not think about anything else for 20 minutes
- Emotionally—I felt pampered and that I was doing something very luxurious
All for $25 and in less than half an hour. How great is that?
When my mother was very near the end of her life and I was with her ‘round the clock, continually checking her breathing, I was wrecked—exhausted physically and emotionally. The respite of leaving for a short time to get a massage allowed me to continue to care for her and be present for her in the best way possible.
Caring daily for patients who can be anxious about their recent event or diagnosis, hesitant to exert themselves, fearful of trusting the process, or resistant or in denial of the road ahead generates significant stress, even for the most experienced and “zen” professionals. You exert nurturing energy 40 hours a week—at the bare minimum! It’s crucial to replenish that energy on a regular basis so you can provide your best self, your best support. So—whatever you need to do to give yourself some care, do it. Get a massage to release the stress, go for a walk to experience nature’s calm, take a nap when your body clearly demands it, sing your favorite music at the top of your lungs to release energy, sit outside alone in the garden to process a particularly rough day – whatever helps you regroup and recharge. Love yourself enough to give yourself permission to care for YOU.
As you know, your patients are processing each day too, but with far less skill than you. For those patients who haven’t naturally allowed themselves to feel justified in self-care, you can teach patients this skill out of your own experience. If you can feel no other justification for taking time to care for yourself, frame it as an additional skill you can pass on to patients to help ensure they’re around long after graduation. In caring for yourself, you care for others.
Breeda Miller is a Caregiver Champion and professional speaker who works with groups looking for creative ways to care for the caregivers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check her out at www.BreedaMiller.com