It is normal that caring for the dying will touch you and change you. As Rachel Naomi Remen says,
The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet. Kitchen Table Wisdom, page 52.
Self-care is important to maintaining health for all caregivers, and is especially important for those who care for the dying. There are consequences, both positive and negative, to providing palliative care. For example, being with people during their dying process may enhance your appreciation of simple things, increase your empathy and strengthen your appreciation for people facing the challenges of dying. These benefits not only increase your capacity to provide care, but they may inspire you to face your own challenges with a new strength and determination.
On the negative side, there may be times when the work and the sorrow you witness leave you grieving, sad and feeling exhausted. You may find yourself grieving the person’s losses as though they are your own family. You may feel guilty that you are mobile while they are immobile, and living while they are dying. These may be negative effects of caring for the dying.
Francoise Mathieu, Compassion Fatigue Specialist, organized a wonderful conference, “CARE4U” in Kingston earlier this month.I was thrilled to be able to attend. A number of excellent speaker, including Dr. David Posen, who spoke on “Stress, work-life balance, and burnout – under the microscope”. Sylvie Dagenais-Douville – AKA the “Laughter Yoga lady” spoke of course on laughter. Francoise provided sessions where you could “learn, connect or refuel” building on the idea that it is those three things that most help you to fight compassion fatigue.
Refuel sounds easy, but it is interesting to me, after months of writing, that it is harder than it sounds. I turned 57 this year. And was thrilled to announce “57 born in 57!” It sounds rather magical to me. SO, my goal for the year is to enjoy 57 fabulous fun refueling activities… and to put aside 57 minutes a day to refuel. Please feel free to follow up with me!
Not being the best at putting aside this time, or being the expert on self care… I invited Francoise to contribute to the chapter on self care in the next text…. written specifically for Personal Support Workers. (To be launched in October…. )
Francoise suggests that you need to choose strategies that are meaningful to you and provide you with energy. The strategies need to be scheduled into your life regularly enough to keep you fueled up. The important part of refueling is to make the effort even though sometimes you do not feel you have time or energy. In fact, it is when you do not feel you have time or energy that these strategies are most important to your well being. Prioritize and participate. Sometimes it is most helpful to call on your social support network to work together on refueling.
This list below identifies ways to refuel. It is not comprehensive, and does not provide instruction. If an idea interests you, then explore the idea using books, websites and courses to guide you.
Eat food that nourishes you
You are often very busy during the day so it is easy to fall into the pattern of grabbing a quick bite on the fly. Prepare healthy, easy-to-eat nutritious snacks in advance, take them to work and enjoy them throughout the day. Avoid turning to sugar and carbs for a quick fix. (I say this as I dream of my favorite dark chocolate ice-cream!)
Drinking water is a bit like having a shower – it cleanses your insides similar to a shower cleansing your outside. Water increases energy, relieves fatigue, helps to cleanse your body of waste and boosts the immune system. Keep a water bottle with you at work. Develop a habit to drink water between clients and at breaks.
Move for at least 30 minutes a day! Have a look at this fabulous fun, quick video to understand the return on investment… the highest return is in the first 30 minutes each day! If you work in isolation you may find it helpful to meet with someone else to exercise. If you work in a group, you may have a need to exercise on your own. If you provide heavy physical care, attend a fitness class to strengthen the muscles that you are using regularly at work, or get a group together to hire a personal trainer to provide you with an exercise regime that will prevent injuries.
Sleep well and sleep long enough. Integrate “sleep hygiene” habits in the hour/s before you go to bed: go for a walk, have a warm bath, pray or meditate, read a soothing book, listen to calming music, shut down back lit screens at least an hour before bed. If you work night shifts, or have difficulty sleeping, research additional strategies to help you get the best sleep possible.
Be in nature
Being in nature and even seeing nature, (including trees and green space) helps to reduce stress and improve health.
The pack is on my back…. I breathe the fresh air… walk the first steps of the trail… and already life is better.
I sit by the ocean, the waves lapping at the shore… I sense … I am energized.
Stretching can increase flexibility, range of motion, circulation and energy level. Stretching can reduce stress, muscle tension and lower back pain. Learn to stretch and then take your stretching to work!
One of my favorite songs is from Mary Poppins. “I love to laugh, long and loud and clear, I love to laugh…… it’s getting worse every year!” What a fabulous song! I do love to laugh! The relatively new field of ‘laughter yoga’ helps people obtain the benefits of laughter through laughter exercises. What might start as fake laughter soon becomes real laughter. Years ago I read that ‘laughter is internal jogging’ and I am sure that this is one form of exercise that I can get hooked on! Sylvie led the entire group in a wonderful session of laughter yoga and I am convinced!
It was a great two day conference. I came away refreshed, inspired, and having learned a bit more about ways to take care.