A strong and healthy support system is crucial for caregivers. Robust supports will reduce stress and positively impact physical health as well as mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. In a great many cases, a strong support system even impacts a family’s financial health by ensuring a caregiver’s employability outside the home.
You may feel confident that you and your family can remain healthy and on track. But that is very difficult without support. Be careful about letting the good days lure you into complacency about cultivating healthy systems and robust resources. You will benefit greatly by being proactive in this area. Use the energy you have in those stronger days to be intentional and forward-thinking about how to foster the kinds of supports you’ll need for the harder days.
Caregivers can develop habits that optimize their social supports which include emotional, practical, informational, and attitudinal resources. Those you find listed here are meant to empower you, not intimidate you. After all, we’re all in a work in process.
Healthy momentum should be the goal, not perfection. Think of these habits as a guide rather than a destination. They aim at helping caregivers maintain satisfying progress and keep from getting stuck on the often arduous and lonely road of caring for a loved one with disabilities, medically complex conditions, mental health concerns or other special needs.
- Approach caregiver fatigue with a proactive mindset.
When a loved one has disabilities or complex medical needs, caregivers tend to become very aware of their limitations, weaknesses, and weariness. Effective caregivers recognize they are vulnerable to battle fatigue and they work to stay ahead of it. They are intentional and strategic about cultivating a network of prayerful and supportive warriors.
- Maintain a clear sense of purpose.
Identifying your purpose in being a caregiver will help you stay focused on your goals, be reminded of your value to others, enable you to remain compassionate, give you a reason to persevere, reassure you that there are brighter days ahead, and relieve you of guilt and fear about cultivating support.
- Know your unique strengths and learn how to stay in the groove of those strengths.
Did you know there are things about you that make you uniquely equipped to care for others very well? A simple reflection on Psalm 139 quickly reveals that you are God’s work of art. Caregiving is a drain on your energy and will threaten your reserves. Just as your body needs fuel to stay alive and energized, your soul needs nourishment too. By recognizing and accepting you have certain strengths as well as areas of limitation and vulnerability, you can help you optimize those strengths and learn healthy, godly ways to stay out of the weeds of your weaknesses. It can also provide clues about opportunity areas for bolstering your support system with complementary strengths.
RELATED: Check out our blog series about finding your caregiver “sweet spots.”
- Ask for help.
You can’t assume people know that you need help or understand how they can contribute. Most caregivers with robust support have learned to be bold and courageous about seeking help. They have learned to delegate through clear and direct invitations.
I learned a valuable lesson from one of my own adult daughters. She is involved with the national Sibling Leadership Network and explains that siblings want invitations to participate without any sense of obligation. When you make needs humbly and enthusiastically known without attaching them to expectations, those who offer to help can do so with genuine desire. Their commitment could be more long-lasting and more deeply satisfying for everyone.
Ultimately, you’ll need to admit that you are powerless and need God’s help with circumstances, relationships, responsibilities, emotional health, and finding encouragement. In a future post, I’ll share more about how you can recruit help among friends, family, neighbors, church members, and professionals.
- Cultivate a cooperative environment.
As a team is required, God also equips everyone on the team with unique ways and capacities for interacting with the others. Aim to optimize the strengths and capacities of each person within an atmosphere that features cooperation, compromise, and compassion. This will enhance motivation, build self-esteem, and bring personal and shared satisfaction.
RELATED: Boosting Family Morale: Developing a Complementary System.
- Find your personal pace for an adequate rhythm of respite.
Caregivers typically have very little discretionary time and few are able to get all the breaks they need. But some degree of adequate rest is essential for everyone. Your proactive mindset helps you learn to grab every opportunity for down time. But spontaneous moments of rest may rarely come. So, having planned breaks on the calendar can be powerful in helping you pace yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Knowing something is out there on the horizon may be just the thing to get your through a particularly hard moment, day, or week. I’ll explore specific examples and ideas for your inspiration in a future post.
- Share everything with Jesus.
Pray without ceasing and don’t be afraid to show your raw emotions with God. Open your heart and mind to the Lord. Explore your hopes, dreams, sorrows, disappointment, needs, challenges, failures, gratitude, joys, and pleasures. Everything. Sometimes there won’t even be words for the groaning of your soul. The Israelites understood this (Exodus 2:23). King David understood this (Psalm 13). God understands too. Be assured, words are not necessary. God hears our groans and sees us (Exodus 2:24-25). His help and hope are deeply personal (Romans 8:22-27).
- Adopt low expectations of the world — and out-of-this-world expectations of God.
Managing expectations is a constant tension for caregivers. Even when your expectations are in balance, you will simultaneously feel confidently equipped for your responsibilities while utterly reliant on God (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Only God is completely trustworthy and perfectly capable of meeting your needs. The people and things of this world can be a great blessing from the Lord but those provisions will always fall short of being enough. On some level, people will always disappoint you because you were made to need God most of all. Your ultimate hope and rest are in Jesus (Galatians 6:7-8).
The more you learn to walk in these habits, the stronger you will be against symptoms of battle fatigue. We’ll be exploring more about these habits in upcoming posts. I hope you’ll come back often, reflect, share your own “best practices”, and grow with us.
If you’re needing extra confidence, encouragement, or tools to assist you in finding your groove, please reach out for professional help. Consider caregiver consulting or professional counseling for personalized care.
Walk Right In Ministries is available to help you with education, consulting services, counseling, and referrals to meaningful resources. Our team collaborates with a broad network of local and national organizations dedicated to strengthening churches, communities, and families when disabilities are involved. Fill out the Interest Form or visit us at WalkRightIn.org to learn more.
Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Together, the Jamiesons founded Walk Right In Ministries in 2008, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families.