A large focus of my work and mission revolves around helping caregivers understand the value of self care, and to guide them toward positive and helpful ways to take care of themselves. This caring for the caregiver idea is significantly more layered than most of us realize.
Taking care of yourself while focusing on the care of someone else has as much to do with understanding what your own caregiving looks like as it does with recognizing and acting on when you need to step back, ask for help, rest, exercise, speak to a friend, or meditate. If you don’t, your mind and body will respond to the stress in ways you may choose to ignore, but believe me, you cannot ignore it forever.
Now I am thinking about the Concentric Circles of Caregiving. I appreciate much more that we need to be aware of the needs of those who are not always seen as direct caregivers. When someone is acutely or chronically ill, both inner and outer caregiving circles are affected. People who help the caregiver, particularly in crisis situations, are far from immune from stress, fear, and worry, and they need to take care of themselves.
These people often serve as “back up.” They are relied upon for significant help, sometimes scheduled, sometimes last minute. But because they are not always on the “front lines” they and others may not appreciate the potentially deleterious effects the stress has on them. I think of this as “stress creep.”
The stress on caregivers and on the Concentric Circles of Caregivers who are a bit further removed, isn’t something to be afraid of or to avoid. Helping others, even when it creates stress on us, is part of the beauty and goodness of being human. We want to do it. Indeed, it is a gift to be allowed to do it. It connects us to those we love and care for more deeply.
And, it is stressful. That’s okay. We just need to acknowledge that it is stressful and do what we need to do so we can retain our health. When we are careless about our own health, we are at risk of being unable to help anyone, and that would be stressful, indeed.
Whether or not others recognize it (because their focus is on the person who is ill), these Concentric Circle Caregivers, or “back up helpers,” must pay attention to managing their stress. Those who are members of the Concentric Caregiving Circles are taking care of the caregivers as well as the person who is ill and their extended family members, while trying to keep their lives functioning normally during difficult times. And these Concentric Circle Caregivers are vital to the process. But because they are “a bit removed” they may not appreciate that they, too, have a potential health risk and need to proactively protect their own health.