• La Shawn Splane-Wilburn

Emotional Respite

It's so important to realize that every time you get upset, it drains your emotional energy. Losing your cool makes you tired. Getting angry a lot messes with your health. - Joyce Meyer

Taking a break is every caregivers dream, although you will rarely hear it spoken about openly. A many a day a mental health caregiver somewhere has perused the web in search of a place to get away and dreamed of an escape. I have had many conversations with caregivers where the thought of escaping to a quiet place where no one knew your name and where you could you could just sleep.

Some days the range of emotions that we mental health family caregivers go through are so extreme they are palpable. There were times during the negative symptoms of my son or during the “crisis” that resulted from the negative symptoms that I swore there was this wall in front of me, invisible but very present. I felt as if it blocked everything in that moment and it was like standing “face-front” up against a brick wall, from the abrasiveness to of the brick to the structure of it.

There were days when I physically leaned forward and tears streaming down my face longing to feel it pressing against my forehead, it was as if the sensation would not only verify its existence but offer the support I needed to keep from falling over.

Coming out of a high stress and highly emotional period with a loved one leaves you physically spent, I always feel like I could sleep for days if left uninterrupted.

As mental health family caregivers we never really get a chance to turn off, especially if we are dealing with a loved one who is non-compliant. I became a shell of myself many days wondering mindless and aimlessly through the day reaching the evening and realizing I didn’t remember one thing from the day only that it’d passed me by.

Studies show that caregivers for loved ones with mental health disorders like, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder and Dementia have the highest incidents of secondary patient symptoms and extreme stress levels.

Cortisol levels (steroid hormone- released for fight or flight response) are shown to markedly higher in those caregivers especially within the first few minutes of waking up. Which means our bodies go into “artificial power mode” the moment we realize we are awake. How is that? Because our thoughts automatically go to what we have to do for that day. What we think we become therefore we are thinking stress and we become stressed.

I begin changing how I woke up, I took control of my thoughts the moment I opened my eyes. When we get up in the morning it’s a good idea to give the body time to wake up but most importantly our brain.

Our brains take from 30 to 45 minutes to become fully awake upon coming out of sleep. How we wake up can affect our day, and being that our days can be very stressful we need all of the assistance in keeping calm that we can.

Emotional respite is something all caregivers should give to themselves at the end of the day and extended times when there is a stable loved one. Keeping a journal allows you to release negative emotions you may have associated with being a mental health family caregiver, talking to other mental health family caregivers is important as well and helps us to know we are not alone. Look for peer support groups for mental health family caregivers.

What are some ways to take Emotional Respite?

Some of the best ways I have found to recharge my emotional batteries are:

  1. Listening to nature sounds

  2. Watching nature movies

  3. Watching nature channels on YouTube

  4. Reading positive books

  5. Limiting my time on Social Media

  6. Limiting my time on the phone or texting

  7. Lighting candles or building a fire outside

  8. Painting

  9. Taking a trip to the beach

  10. Playing a favorite instrument

You can find things that make you feel light and airy which you enjoy doing and add those to your day, it’s not always easy but sometimes you just have to force yourself. I started leaving chores which were not pressing until later in the day when I was much calmer or had less to do for family or my loved one. I quit beating myself up about not folding the laundry or doing the dishes immediately.

I tell caregivers all of the time, “if people visiting you can’t understand that you are caring for someone and you are not always able to keep a neat and orderly home let them know they don’t have to visit if it upsets them so much.”

We have enough to do without adding appeasing others and their issues. Being a mental health family caregiver requires burning up the majority of our reserves on our emotional and physical banks and in turn can have an effect on our mental and spiritual banks and it’s important that we don’t introduce into our environments an individual or circumstance that requires us to expend more emotional energy…especially negative emotional energy.

Don’t allow others to make you feel guilty for not making yourself available to them. Those who love and respect what you are doing will understand.

Explain to family and friends it’s nothing personal when you are not around or answering phone calls, and set a time to have calls come in. If you are most busy or your loved one requires the bulk of your time during the day, then set hours for your family and friends to call you. Set days of the week when you will be returning calls. Set ways in which to allow your family or friends to contact you should they have a “true emergency” and stick to that arrangement not allowing them to guilt trip you into making their priorities your priorities.

When it all comes down to it if you don’t set parameters others rarely will. We can find ourselves giving everything we have to others and neglecting our own self-care. We are important and we deserve to have a break and do nothing so that we can recover and rebuild our reserves.

Don’t neglect taking Emotional Respite it’s important to your own health and well-being.

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