We’ve all been on airplanes when the cabin attendant is giving the safety demonstration. Have you ever thought about those oxygen masks and how those same safety rules apply to elder caregiving? Between coaching caregivers, and flying, I have thought quite a bit about the obvious parallels… Here are my Caregiver Rules To Avoid Burnout. In other words, you have to help yourself before you can save someone else.
The rule of thumb is that it will take less than 10 seconds before you pass out from the loss of oxygen in a depressurized airliner that’s flying at 30,000 feet.
Once you’re unconscious, the loss of oxygen will overwhelm your body and you will die before the plane can be safely landed. That’s why you put your mask on first, and then help the child or disabled person next to you.
Because they need help themselves, they cannot help you if you wait to put on your mask. You both will die. Apply that principle to your caregiving: you absolutely have to care for yourself in order to be able to care for someone else.
In the abstract this is a tough rule for caregivers to grasp. It always was for me because, like all of you, I re-prioritized my life to add caregiving on top of family, home, work, church and community involvement. Care for myself was at the bottom of the to-do list.
But when Stage One Burnout with its symptoms of migraine headaches, repeated respiratory infections, gastric distress, jaw pain and joint pain planted themselves in my life, I finally had to acknowledge that caregiving was taking a toll. And then I started doing something about it.
Don’t wait until you’re in Stage One—never mind Stage Two, or worse yet Stage Three with its complete physical, emotional and spiritual meltdown. You can take action now.
Take time off from your caregiving duties regularly. Use the time for exercise, to be part of a support group, or to tend to your spiritual life. You could use the time to catch up on lost sleep or to pamper yourself with a movie or a pedicure. If it works for you, you could use the time-off to do nothing at all but sit on a bench in a beautiful place.
Active self-care isn’t an indulgence, it’s a necessity, just like putting on your oxygen mask. You do it so that you can help the person who needs you.