How To Take Care Of Others Without Burning Out
How to Take Care of Others Without Burning Out
In our over-stressed world, many health care providers, social workers and caregivers are suffering from slow yet painful burnout. Many of the rest of us, working long hours and raising families, seem to be approaching burnout, too. Sometimes we may feel that we’re too exhausted to keep giving to others, even though giving is a primary source of happiness in our lives.
So how can we keep giving without burning out? We’re told that self-care is the answer: Give yourself a treat; you deserve it. Take some time for yourself. Say no.
Indeed, a research review found that psychologists in training who practice more self-care report feeling less distressed and stressed and more satisfied with life. The question is: What does self-care look like, and how much of it do we need?
As it turns out, the trick is to be other-focused and kind, but to balance that with taking care of yourself as well. Here are some practices to help you do that.
One particularly potent form of self-care involves transforming our relationship with ourselves—in particular, practicing self-compassion.
Self-compassion is treating yourself as you would a friend—with kindness rather than self-judgment—especially at times when you fail. Self-compassion is remembering that we all make mistakes, instead of beating ourselves up. And it means being mindful of emotions and thoughts without getting overly immersed in them. Self-compassion doesn’t mean being indulgent or letting yourself off the hook, but it also doesn’t mean being overly self-critical and harsh.
Elaine Beaumont at the University of Salford in England has conducted numerous studies looking at the impact of self-compassion on burnout and compassion fatigue. In a study of 100 student midwives—who routinely see both the miracle of new life and the tragedies that can accompany childbirth—Beaumont and her team found that midwives who had higher levels of self-compassion also showed less burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms. The opposite was true of midwives who were highly self-critical. She repeated this study with different caretaker professions and found similar results in nurses and students training to be counselors and psychotherapists.
In addition to being protected against burnout, people who are more self-compassionate tend to report feeling less stress and negative emotions. They’re also more optimistic and feel more happiness and other positive emotions, among other benefits.
To practice self-compassion, try some of the exercises that pioneering self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff has studied and written about in her book on self-compassion, such as writing a self-compassionate letter, taking a self-compassion break, or asking yourself: how would I treat a friend?
Caring for ourselves also means seeking social connections who can provide practical and emotional support to us when we’re struggling. A study of nurses found that belonging to a more cohesive group at work helps prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, reducing the effects of stress and trauma.
This should come as no surprise: Social connection, from birth to old age, is one of our greatest human needs. Social connection leads to lower rates of anxiety and depression, strengthens our immune system, and can even lengthen our life.
Researchers agree that social connection has less to do with the number of friends you have than with how connected you feel on the inside, subjectively. In other words, you don’t have to be a social butterfly to reap the benefits; just aim to cultivate an internal sense of belonging with those around you.
How? The tricky part is that stress is linked to self-focus; our stressed minds turn towards me, myself and I—making us even more miserable and disconnected from others. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and walks in nature, as well as curbing caffeine, can all help us calm down and feel ready to reach out to others. A study we conducted at Stanford showed that loving-kindness meditation can be a quick way to nurture a sense of connection. Better yet, try meditating with a partner.
It might seem counterintuitive that empathy—which includes attending to others’ struggles—would help us with our own, particularly for caregivers. But research in social workers shows that having more empathy can also prevent burnout. Brain-imaging research by Tania Singer suggests that compassion training can actually make you better at coping with other people’s suffering—helping you help others without paying the cost yourself.
One potential explanation for this finding is that, by developing feelings like compassion and empathy, we are protected from feeling distressed or overwhelmed in the face of suffering. When you truly connect with another person who is suffering, you can actually feel empowered and energized because you are inspired to uplift that person.
We’ve all had the experience of having a friend ask for help during a time of emergency. In these moments, we are usually capable of so much more than we imagined—we seem to find hidden reserves of energy. Afterward, we end up feeling much better than we did before.
Again, loving-kindness meditation is one way to start to cultivate empathy. When you speak with someone who is suffering, practicing active listening can help you provide comfort and support to them without having to solve their problems.
The benefits of giving
If we can figure out how to continue giving to others without suffering from burnout, we can expect to reap many benefits.
For example, volunteering can have a positive impact on health, with benefitsfor obesity, blood glucose, blood pressure, and longevity. Older volunteers can derive a great feeling of purpose and self-esteem from volunteering; research shows that it makes them feel happier, more connected to others and more confident of their self-worth. The benefits of volunteering for well-being seem to be universal, holding across cultures as well as generations.
Other studies have found that we’re happier when we spend money on others, and that we experience more positive emotions when we engage in acts of kindness for others, rather than ourselves. As a researcher of happiness and someone who has written a book on the topic, I can attest to the many, many studies that have been written on the subject.
If you are shy or introverted or even have social anxiety, giving to others can actually still increase your happiness. Although giving tends to feel better when we connect with beneficiaries, for the truly shy or those who don’t have time, even kind acts conducted over the computer can increase well-being. Finally, as Adam Grant has shown in his book Give & Take, being a giver also leads to greater professional success.
Self-compassion, social connection, and empathy are powerful forms of self-care—but that doesn’t mean that traditional self-care activities have no place in our lives. Keeping your spirits up with exercise, sleeping in and making room for fun activities like movies or shopping are important. These pleasures give us short bursts of happiness that can help fuel us and keep us playful in life. To complement these more physical pleasures, however, giving and connecting with others in positive ways will bring us long-lasting feelings of joy that come from a life of purpose and meaning. The balance between the two is a ripe recipe for a happy, long and fulfilling life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Greater Good Science Center.
Top 10 Chronic Conditions in Adults 65+ and What You Can do to Prevent or Manage Them
By Healthy Aging Team
Top 10 Chronic Conditions in Adults 65+ and What You Can do to Prevent or Manage Them
Age, family genetics, and gender make it nearly impossible for older adults to avoid becoming a chronic disease statistic. Eighty percent of adults 65 and older have at least one condition, while 68% have two or more. You probably have a parent or grandparent who is managing a condition right now, or perhaps you are managing one yourself.
With these kinds of odds, you might wonder if there is even anything you can do to prevent the onset of a condition, or make managing an existing condition easier. The answer is yes. Here are ten common chronic conditions adults 65+ on Medicare were treated for in 2015, and what you should know about each.
The 10 most common chronic diseases in adults 65+
Number 10: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
11 % of older adults were treated for COPD, a disease that includes two main conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD makes it hard to breathe and causes shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness.
The number one way to prevent COPD—or slow it’s progression—is to quit or avoid smoking. Also try to avoid secondhand smoke, chemical fumes, and dust, which can irritate your lungs.
If you already have COPD, complete the treatments that your doctor has prescribed, get the flu and pneumonia vaccines as recommended by your doctor, and continue to remain active.
Number 9: Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
11% of older adults on Medicare were treated for Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease is one specific type of dementia—a condition that causes memory loss and difficulty thinking or problem-solving to the point that it interferes with every day activities. Dementia is not a normal part of aging and is caused by changes in the brain over time.
The biggest risk factors for these conditions are things you often can’t control, including age, family history, and genetics, but studies have suggested incorporating the following habits into your life style could slow or prevent onset.
Exercise. Staying active isn’t just good for your heart; it’s also great for your brain.
Sleep. Your brain does important stuff while you are sleeping, so getting at least 7 hours of deep sleep a night is crucial
Be smart about your diet. Research suggests that some foods can negatively affect your brain
Number 8: Depression
14% of older adults sought treatment for depression – a treatable medical condition that is not a normal part of aging. Depression causes persistent feelings of sadness, pessimism, hopelessness, fatigue, difficulty making decisions, changes in appetite, a loss of interest in activities, and more.
Steps you can take to help with depression include:
Manage stress levels. Reach out to family and friends during rough spells and consider regular meditation
Eat a healthy diet. What you put into your body can affect your mood, so focus on foods that are high in nutrients and promote the release of endorphins and those “feel good” chemicals, and limit consumption of things like alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed foods.
Routine exercise. Exercise has a number of physical and psychological benefits, including improving your mood through the release of endorphins and other “feel good” brain chemicals, boosting self-confidence and self-worth through meeting goals and improving your physical appearance, and increased socialization through interactions at gyms and group classes.
Talk to your doctor. If you’ve experienced any of the warning signs of depression, talk to your doctor, and ask about your treatment options. Antidepressant medications or psychotherapy could be right for you.
If you or someone you love has had thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 (TALK).
Number 7: Heart failure
14% of older adults were treated for heart failure — a condition that occurs when the heart cannot adequately supply blood and oxygen to all of the organs in the body. The heart might become enlarged, develop more muscle mass, or pump faster in order to meet the body’s needs, causing you to feel tired, light headed, nauseous, confused, or lack an appetite. The best prevention is to follow a doctor’s recommendations to decrease your risk for coronary heart disease and high blood pressure.
Number 6: Chronic kidney disease (CKD)
18% of older adults were treated for CKD or a slow loss in kidney function over time. People dealing with CKD have an increased risk for developing heart disease or kidney failure. You can do the following to prevent or diminish symptoms of CKD:
Understand what damages your kidney. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the greatest risk factors for kidney damage, so taking steps to prevent these diseases is your best strategy
Early detection and treatment. Talk to your doctor regularly, stay current on screenings, and keep up on prescriptions you need to diminish symptoms
Number 5: Diabetes
27% of older adults were treated for diabetes – a disease that occurs when your body is resistant to, or doesn’t produce enough, insulin. Insulin is what your body uses to get energy from food, and distribute it to your cells. When this doesn’t happen, you get high blood sugar, which can lead to complications such as kidney disease, heart disease, or blindness. Chances of having diabetes increases after age 45.
To keep you from developing diabetes or to manage this condition, your doctor may suggest:
Eating a healthy diet, including monitoring your carbohydrate and calorie intake, and talking to your doctor about alcohol consumption
Exercising for 30 minutes five times a week to keep your blood glucose levels in check, and to control weight gain
Safely losing 5-7% of body weight if you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes
Number 4: Ischemic heart disease (or coronary heart disease)
29% of older adults were treated for ischemic heart disease – a condition that is caused by a build-up of plaque that narrows the arteries leading to the heart. Narrow or blocked arteries decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood delivered to the heart. This can cause other complications like blood clots, angina, or a heart attack.
Habits you can incorporate to help:
Refrain from saturated and trans fats, and limit sugar and salt intake
Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night
Keep your stress levels in check
Do regular cardio exercises
Abstain from smoking
Talk to your doctor about the major risk factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure
Number 3: Arthritis
31% of older adults were treated for arthritis – an inflammation of your joints, which causes pain and stiffness and is more common in women.
There are steps you can take to delay the onset of arthritis or manage the symptoms, including:
Exercise at least 5 times per week, for 30 minutes each time to improve function and decrease pain. Try to include a mixture of aerobic, strength-building and stretching movements.
Stay within the recommended weight for your height—losing one pound can remove four pounds of pressure on your knees
Make sure your back, legs and arms are always supported
Take precautions to avoid joint injuries
Do not smoke
Number 2: High cholesterol
47% of older adults were treated for high cholesterol – a condition that occurs when your body has an excess of bad fats (or lipids), resulting in your arteries getting clogged, which can lead to heart disease.
Lifestyle factors you can control when it comes to preventing or managing high cholesterol include:
Abstaining from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
Being active each day
Managing your weight
Minimizing saturated fats and trans fats in your diet
Number 1: Hypertension (high blood pressure)
58% of older adults were treated for hypertension – a common condition that involves both how much blood your heart pumps, as well as how resistant your arteries are to the blood flow. When your heart pumps a lot of blood, and you have narrow arteries which resist the flow, that’s when you get high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The danger of hypertension is not only that you can have it for years and not know it, but it can cause other serious health conditions, like stroke and heart attacks.
Things you can do to try to prevent, or reduce, high blood pressure include:
Maintaining a healthy weight. Losing just ten pounds can reduce blood pressure
Regulate your stress levels
Limit salt and alcohol consumption
Exercise daily, including a combination of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, flexibility and stretching, and muscle strengthening
Check your blood pressure regularly—the quicker you catch pre-hypertension, the more likely you are to prevent high blood pressure
When these tactics aren’t enough
The above tips can help you avoid or successfully manage a chronic condition. However, if you or someone you know is struggling to manage a chronic condition, there are programs in your community that can help, like the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP). CDSMP is a 6-week, interactive, small-group workshop that helps participants build the skills necessary to control how chronic conditions affect their life.
Workshop sessions focus on the following topics:
Dealing with fatigue, pain, frustration, or isolation
Maintaining strength, flexibility, and endurance
Communicating with family, friends, and health professionals
To learn more about workshops in your community, contact your local area agency on aging.
For original post at National Council of Aging: