Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Self Care & Limit Setting- Protecting your Energy and Spirit

Self Care & Limit-Setting: no one is going to do this for you, and it requires work! 

Limit setting can be especially difficult for caregivers due to the simple fact that we are in this work because we want to give of ourselves, because we have the ability to put ourselves second (or third or fourth) so that others can come first. So, when we speak about setting limits, saying no, or looking out for ourselves, it tends to be an uncomfortable or foreign concept for helpers to grasp.  Along with wanting to give, caregivers tend to have a strong need to be needed. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can take care of people who need help taking care of themselves, that we can hold things together for other people when they are losing their grasp,

The challenge for caregivers is to have the self awareness to be able to identify what the important limits are for each of us, and to actively work to maintain and communicate those limits so that  we can ultimately be as present as possible when we are engaged, and we may actively disengage when we need to. This takes a conscious commitment to yourself to first get to know yourself and what you need, and second, to take action steps for setting limits in order to protect your mind, heart, and spirit. In a day where we are all connected on an unprecedented level through our smartphones, it takes a conscious effort to turn it off, to say no, to put it down, to get away. The attention paid to the realistic limits of a human being surrounded by suffering on a daily basis can make or break a life of care-giving.

Who would have thought that in order to reduce stress and workload that we would need to actively work at things like setting limits? But it is true; and without making that effort, it is easy to look up and find yourself facing an unrealistic workload with nothing left to give.  Setting limits is what enables us to save our energy, our spirit, and to protect our hearts.  In a field where you are asked to constantly give of your mind and heart, it has to be okay to say "I just can't right now."  It has to be okay to delegate a task, to say no to an extra assignment, to ask to continue a conversation tomorrow, or to leave work on time (and not feel a b--ch for doing so!). Without setting limits, saying no, and setting aside time for ourselves, we cannot maintain our own emotional and spiritual balance that we desperately need in order to be effective caregivers.

If you find yourself struggling to maintain your energy and emotional balance, perhaps it is worth examining your limit-setting practices.  The ability and willingness to actively set limits for yourself can be enough to make or break your career or lifestyle as a caregiver.

Here are some questions to consider to measure how well you are setting limits for yourself:

- How many hours per week are you required to work? How many hours per week do you actually work?

- Are you required to be on-call for work? Do you receive work-related calls when you are not on-    call?

- Does the work you are doing (beyond that of the hours required of you) have to be done then, or can   it wait?

- Do you have a hard time saying no to requests, even if the task does not fall under your job description?

- Do people come to you to fix things that you didn't "break"? Do you always attempt to fix them?

-Do you leave work feeling like the energy has been sucked out of you? What specific tasks or interactions make you feel this way?

Next, you may want to consider what you can actively do to improve your limit-setting:

-Is there a theme or pattern about what I find draining?

-Where can I set firmer limits? 

- Where can I communicate my needs regarding these limits so that the people around me understand what my limits are?

-What goal or action steps can I plan for setting better limits?

Over the years I have identified some key limits or boundaries that I need to communicate and maintain in order to protect my energy (and sanity).

Here are some examples of limits that are important to me: 

- I do not take calls from work when I am not on-call. 
Seems pretty common-sensical, however I have had to actively work at conveying that request to my supervisor and my staff. There is an on-call system in place where I work so that there is always someone available by phone. I have had to make it very clear that when my name is not on the schedule, I am NOT available for calls.  I do this not to be rude or disconnected, or because I don't care. I actually do it because I care too much, and would never be able to completely separate myself from work if I allowed staff to call my cell phone whenever they have a question.  I would never have a day to myself where I don't have to worry about work, which results in me returning from my days "off" no more fresh and energized than I was at the end of last week.  I have had no time to rejuvenate and recharge.  I have realized that I need to "emotionally reboot" after five days at work or I cannot be a good caregiver.

- I only entertain complaints and staff issues during supervisions or in writing.
 I have asked my staff to please not approach me with a complaint whenever they can catch my ear. Instead, I have asked that complaints should be put into writing and submitted to my mailbox, or brought up during regularly scheduled supervisions. I will then schedule an appointment to discuss the issue that has been reported.  Again, this is not to be dismissive, or rude, or to seem distant to the needs of my staff, but it is my effort at protecting my own positive energy. I am someone who feeds off of and is very aware of the energy of those around me, be it positive or negative.  I have found that in order for me to be effective at managing complaints or staff upset, I have to be in the right mental space to do so.  If I can manage when I am dealing with intense negative feelings from staff and be prepared to do so, then ultimately I will be more present and effective in moving forward, in supporting my staff, and for making positive change.

- I leave when my shift is over.
This one may not sound like rocket science, but it is extremely important for me to leave after I have been here for 8 hours. In a home that is open and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would be VERY easy to spend upwards of 60 hours per week at work.  On days where it feels like there is so much to do that we are never going to get it all done, I have found it to be more detrimental to my long-term emotional well- being to stay at work longer than 8 hours. I have tried working four ten hour days, and learned that for me, eighth hours is my limit if I still want to be effective.

For different people this may be different. But through my self awareness work, I have come to realize that I am going to be more productive, helpful, and effective if I stop when its time to go- and go! The work will still be there tomorrow, I will be more rested and productive in the morning, and if I stay too long today I am setting myself up to be burned out by the end of the week. Sometimes we are so used to being needed that its almost a let-down if I actually can get up and go home, and no one thinks we should stay. Thoughts like, "Doesn't anyone need me right now?" "So if I go, things will just go on, you mean no one may even notice!?" "There's no way this place can run without me." We have to fight our inner needy caregiver to allow us to take a break or call it a day for the sake of our own sanity!

These three limit statements may come across as harsh, and I have definitely had to work towards having my supervisor and colleagues understand and respect these requests. But the result of me communicating these needs is that I am able to be more present when I am here, and  I am able to sustain my positive energy better and longer than I would be able to if these requests and limits were not honored.  Sometimes in order to look out for others, we need to look out for ourselves first- because as psychiatrist Dr. Wayne Dyer says,
"You can't give what you don't have."

So, how are your limit-setting skills? Where could you improve in setting and communicating those limits?

1 comment:

  1. First off, all of your points are right on and i find this particular blog to be exactly what many caregivers/takers need to read and digest. I think that the ability to set limits transcends the internal personal need of the caretaker and is much easier asserted when the focal point is the overall wellbeing of the client/patient/resident/student. Not to minimize the natural urge or instinct to appease, sooth, or comfort, but once the habit of limit setting is established it becomes exponentially easier to set those limits because there are now expectations for behavior which many of our at risk population is lacking for various reasons. In any event this blog is exactly what many I'm this line of service need to hear because of the high risk and reward and occasional uncertainty of the actual impact we have on the people we work with and for. Thank you for the insight and Go Uconn! -Grant Hightower-