by Brent Lindquist, Ph.D. with Link Care Center
Balance is appropriate in any aspect of life, whether under stress or in optimal functioning. However, balance really comes home to roost, if you will, at these crisis-points in time. When I speak of balance I mean a number of different things, and let me highlight each one of them.
First of all, when I speak of balance I mean balance your “care-giving” with your “life-living.” It’s very important that, to the best of your abilities, recognizing all the external factors which mediate this, you focus on taking care of yourself holistically. The importance of this cannot be overestimated. What this means to me is that you have to live right. Don’t forget in the midst of crisis or caregiving to do all the normal things that you can do or that you need to do in order to be as healthy as you can be. This includes trying to rest as much as you are able. This includes eating as best you can. This includes maintaining an awareness of any ongoing health conditions during your caregiving. And it includes getting away for respite and self-care in a regular fashion.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of these crises is the impact on the caregivers, particularly on those of us who are not professional crisis responders or relief and development people. Our colleagues at World Vision, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, etc., all have much more highly-developed and well-defined attitudes about how to take care of themselves in the midst of crisis. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to spend some time over a cup of coffee, or a non-caffeinated drink if you’ve been drinking too much coffee, with some of these people to find out what they are required to do to take care of themselves. What you will find is that they have to get away from the situation every so often, and that may be way more frequently than you can or would like to be able to get away. You need to follow what they’ve developed because they know what they’re doing and their goal is not to burn up or burn out in the first crisis response process.
Continuing along this life-living vein, you need to make sure that you’re taking care of your nutritional needs. Certainly you may be in a situation where you can’t get access to everything, but too often people make poor choices in foods preferring to eat something that gives them a quick boost rather than something that maintains their physical health. In the same way with sleep, you may find yourself in a situation where sleep is very difficult. That doesn’t mean you give up on it, but that means that you rest. If you’re like me I have a hard time on certain trips with jet lag, but I find that while I may not feel like I’m sleeping, if I force myself to stay in bed and listen to music, think through scripture, or whatever, I will be more rested than if I decided to get up and get to work. You need to balance in your life living.
Secondly, it’s important that you maintain a high level of connection with those people around you. There are a number of spheres of relationships, and let me go through those. First of all, there are the people that are in the relief effort or the crisis response effort with you. Staying in close touch with them communicationally is very important. This is not the time to wall yourself off from your fellow caregivers. There is strength in mutual support. Secondly are the people that aren’t with you but that are highly concerned about you. These are friends and family members. Don’t forsake communicating with them. There was a news bite just a few days ago where somebody broadcast out from the United States to all the people working or the tourists that said, “Call your mother.” I had to laugh, but that’s so true. Often in the midst of all of this we get so focused on what we’re doing that we neglect to keep other people up to date about what we’re doing. That can cause tremendous stress and strain on them, and that can make your life more miserable, because if you’re not taking care of the people around you or providing them with information, they can get really dragged down as well, so communicate!
Thirdly, know your limits or have people help you define them. It’s so easy to go way over your own limits of capacity in the midst of these crises. Many of us are professional caregivers and will give the shirt off our back. While that may seem really great at the time, it may not be good in the long run. Certainly you need to make hard choices, and it’s easy to go back and question any of those choices. That’s an important thing to remember. Everything that you do in the midst of caregiving you will revisit at a later date and ask yourself why you did that or why you didn’t do something more, so you just have to accept that that’s what’s going to happen. Second-guessing is one of the banes of our existence as caregivers. Therefore, it’s very important that you know what you can do, what you’re capable of, and what you shouldn’t be doing and that you have other people help you arrive at that if you’re having trouble making up your mind. All too often people will go overboard and then they end up being in need of care, much more care than they would have if they had taken a better reading of their own needs and what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
I think that’s enough to digest right now. Certainly we are available for other consultations if you have needs or questions. We are providing other kinds of information in many different ways and media and look forward to working with you in this difficult experience.