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the hazards of caring

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alarm2Alarm bells are going off, pointing to an imbalance in my life. Work at hospice has become the reason why I get up in the morning and go to sleep at night. Ninety-five percent of the time when I’m with patients, their families, and coworkers I feel equanimous–at ease and untroubled by ego-needs. I often stay beyond my scheduled hours, saying “I’m off the clock” when someone asks why I haven’t gone home. Within minutes of leaving the hospital, however, uncertainty and loneliness set in. Not always, but more and more frequently.

The topic of self-care comes up frequently among caregivers. I realize that I’m not very good at looking after myself. I notice increasing fatigue and flagging optimism. When I first felt exhausted after work, I’d simply sleep for a couple of hours and wake up refreshed. Then, at a recent staff meeting, I heard myself making cynical remarks, feeling excluded and under-appreciated. Add to that the constant fear of losing my employment and a picture of instability emerges.

A Public Health Canada site describes typical reactions to poor self-care among care-givers; from them I gather that I’m not alone, that this work is hazardous. Of the many symptoms given, the following ring true for me. 

Physical and behavioural reactions: fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, restlessness, headaches, changes in sleeping, increased blood pressure, changes in eating habits, increased susceptibility to colds and flu. 

Emotional reactions: feeling helpless, overwhelmed, inadequate, fragile, vulnerable, mood swings, decreased motivation, isolation, changes in communication patterns, withdrawal.

Cognitive reactions: confusion, difficulty problem solving, memory blanks, having ambiguous feelings, difficulty concentrating or paying attention.

heart-flagp.s. As if anticipating today’s post, one of my nursing coworkers sent these words: “… we often neglect or forget that we mean something very special to those around us. We are busy with our day and work – forgetting about our own needs and extended to help others. How very special to know in your heart that you are genuinely appreciated and supported.”


One response »

  1. You remind all of us that without our wits, physical health, and emotional well being, we are no good to anyone. However, when it is a family member, one forgets everything but trying to figure out how to make it better, instead of remembering that in many cases, it is about balancing your sanity and health with doing your best, not fixing it. In most cases, it can’t be fixed.


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