As I listened to one of my Qigong participants describe her past week caring for her elderly mom, I was taking back to the two years I spent as a caregiver for my sister who had terminal cancer. I recalled the same sense of overwhelm, uncertainty, stress, feelings of inadequacy, and at the same time loving compassion that she was going through.
However, it’s the ending of the conversation stood out for me as my clients said, “This class helps me. Today, I arrived after only a few hours sleep feeling stressed, overwhelmed and with a headache. Now I’m more relaxed, feeling calmer with no headache.”
Listening to my client made me reflect on how different my experience with my sister would have been had I known about Qigong.
An interesting note, is that during the following week I had similar conversations with 2 other clients, one caring for a spouse with the onset of Alzheimers and another who has been caring for an ill son. Both indicated how Qigong has helped them to get through difficult times, give them more energy, help them deal with what arises and gives them the strength to carry on.
Caregiver stress and burnout are a major concern in our society today.
While caring for a loved one can be rewarding, it also comes with many stressors which can build to a point of causing illness for the caregiver.
As I discovered, self-care is not only necessary, it’s a MUST.
I learned this through trial and error. Below are some of the things I did for myself and others I didn’t do so well.
One of the easiest and hardest things for me to embrace was my choice to be with my sister at this time. Even though there were times I felt trapped and angry at the situation, I would calmly remind myself I chose to be there. Taking responsibility for my decision was empowering and grounding.
I had to learn to let go of how I thought things should be and to be comfortable with how things were. This was a constant struggle for me as I wanted to do more. It often led to anger, frustration or periods of irritability.
I found joy in special moments with my sister. Giving her mani and pedicures. Laughing and joking as she tried on various head gear only to come back to a soft alpaca hat from Peru. Sitting in silence holding her hand feeling connected.
To overcome the long days of being housebound, I joined a yoga class one night a week and found a part time evening job. This got me out of the house for a few hours while other family members took over. It was a much needed change of scenery.
Periodically, I went away for a weekend. My first weekend way I realized how important this was since I spent the weekend sleeping. I didn’t realize that I was sleep deprived. When I was with my sister I slept and lived my days as one does with a small child, always alert to any sound.
The one area I didn’t do so well in was dealing with the fluctuating emotions that rolled over me at times. Feelings of anger at both my sister and the illness, of helplessness, of being inadequate, of doubt, of being stuck in the situation with no end in sight, and being irritable. I didn’t know how these emotions were taking a toll on me physically. I know now that these emotional energies could have been balanced and cleared with Qigong.
Qigong came to me 3 years after my sister transitioned. It came to me as a small voice from within that whispered, “Qigong.” At that time I had a vague idea what it was but, when I was introduced to it I felt as if I was coming back to something I always knew.
As I began to go deeper and deeper into my personal Qigong practice, I saw my emotional blockages dissipate one by one. I noticed stresses fall away as I became calmer more at peace. I became aware that I reacted less and less to those things that used to trigger me. With Qigong I felt the tension leave my body and with it the aches and pains.
I sensed that if I had had this Qigong practice while I was a caregiver I might have been more understanding and less impatient. I might have been able to release all those heavy emotions rather than carry around with me. I might have been a more loving sister. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that I did the best I could with what I had.
As I listen to my clients tell me how Spring Forest Qigong has transform them and their relationships to their loved one, I am filled with joy that Qigong whispered to me and that I am able to help others transform their lives in such positive ways.
Caregiver stress and burnout are real and self-care is essential!
Life as a caregiver can be rewarding but, not if it’s pulling you down and diminishing your experience of life. The life of a caregiver is full on and time off may seem like a luxury you can’t afford, however, you owe it to yourself and as well as to the one you are caring for to make time for self care.
You are a gift to your loved one and to the world around you. If you aren’t already doing so, find some time for Qigong, Tai Chi, Yoga, meditation, a support group, a mindfulness practice and socializing with friends. Maintaining some balance in your life will help you be a better caregiver as well as protect your health and well-being.
You are not alone! You are important and you count!
I would love to hear your comments on how you maintain yourself as you care for another. We can all learn from each other how to create a better world for ourselves as we do that which we are called to do.
With love, joy and gratitude