Written by Wendy Johnstone, Provincial Program Consultant and Gerontologist with Family Caregivers of BC and originally published in Inspired 55+ Lifestyle Magazine.
Margo is doing a lot: she’s caring for her husband who is recovering from a stroke, and she’s supporting her adult daughter with mental health challenges. She’s still working part-time and is now faced with the added pressure of being solely responsible for the bills and household. Even though she has respite once a week for three hours, she finds herself feeling “zapped,” “drained” and “not knowing what to do with her time.”
Mental, physical and emotional drains have a big impact on us. Physically, we might feel drained due to a lack of quality sleep, joint pain and feeling in poorer health. Mental drain crops up when we feel there are incomplete tasks, clutter, decisions that need to be made, etc. Emotional drains include tension in relationships, the “shoulds” that show up in our life (and that little voice on our shoulder), grief and loss and managing our own and other’s behaviour.
Energy zappers are a common challenge from caregivers. Especially in the winter season. Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple solution. These three strategies, however, can help reduce feelings of being zapped: be curious, conserve energy, and refill your cup.
Margo and I spoke about her “energy zappers” and I asked her to be curious by listing what they were. She listed her top five: worry about her partner at home alone, lack of focused “me” time, lack of time to grieve changes, feeling overwhelmed by the tasks of managing the household, and not letting go of areas over which she has no control.
An analogy we use to describe energy conservation is a daily personal pie. Each of us only gets one pie a day. How we use (or eat!) our pie each day is often tied to conserving our energy by allocating our slices of pie to different areas. For Margo, she understood that when she spent time focusing on things she couldn’t control, it took away a big chunk of her daily pie. She also recognized and acknowledged that some days there wasn’t going to be much of a “well-being slice” but a non-negotiable for her was a daily walk – between 15 and 60 minutes a day depending on that day.
Finally, Margo wrote out what refills her cup. The condition was not to place limiting factors on the list and not to over analyze. Margo knew she couldn’t do everything on the list right now. When she looked at her list, two things jumped out: being in nature and drawing. She realized that during the days when she had respite, she could start to refill her cup rather than feel she “should be” running errands and managing the household.
A takeaway exercise: Make a list using the title, “My Energy Zappers” (visuals are helpful, so draw a few lightning bolts on your page!) Write down what zaps your energy. Some examples: “shoulds,” your own or other people’s behaviour, clutter, unmet personal needs, crossed boundaries, half-finished items, dead plants, unresolved issues or guilt, poor eating habits, being undecided about something, a relationship that is creating stress, sleep habits, etc. Now ask yourself, “How did it feel to write out my energy zappers?” and “What did I notice?” If you still feel the flow of contemplation and writing, consider asking yourself, “What’s one step or action I want to take to change the items on my list?”