Finding Your Balance

Finding Balance | Creating Daily Joys

Finding your balance as a caregiver can feel like riding a bike with the front wheel and handlebars skewed off to the side or hiking uphill on a rocky path. And there are moments you feel like you’re walking an emotional tightrope across the abyss of despair.

If you are the primary caregiver for a loved one, a great deal of your own sense of balance depends on how that loved one is doing at any given time:

  • when their blood pressure is spiking or dipping
  • when they have unexplained fevers or symptoms
  • when they get sick and go downhill quickly
  • when they have complications from a new medicine

All of these and other factors affect not only your loved one, but the stress of caring and care-giving also affects your heart rate, anxiety, mental clarity, sleep and energy level, and can put you on an emotional roller coaster as well.

How do we as caregivers find and maintain a balance in our own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being, in the midst of caring for others?

Finding balance is not just for caregivers but for all of us.

We all live in a world full of stress, that some days feels it is spinning out of control, as we are bombarded with too much information and mis-information about too much negative and not enough positive. Caregivers may feel as though they are dealing with more challenges than they are equipped to deal with, while trying to live their own life and deal with their own grief at the same time.

My daughter and I often talk of how similar, in some ways, caring for very young children and the elderly can be, though for very different reasons:

  • they can both be finicky eaters
  • they may not like to take baths
  • they don’t like going to the doctor (who does?)
  • they need help with everything, from eating to bathing to toileting and dressing
  • we help them learn, or relearn, to walk
  • we take them for walks in strollers and wheelchairs
  • we care for them and protect them as best we can from physical danger and emotional harm
  • as their caregivers, we get interrupted all day long and several times a night in our attempts to continue living a life of our own.

The interruptions are sometimes the hardest, as you rarely get to finish a meal or go to the bathroom without interruption. It’s hard to start working or concentrate on anything mentally challenging or personally fulfilling when you know you’ll be interrupted within twenty minutes.

I don’t mention any of these to complain.  It’s all part of the responsibility and stress of being a caregiver – or a mother – or whatever you do.  We all have a certain amount of stress we have to deal with. You cannot plan care for children or aging parents around your schedule, and you just know and accept this as part of the deal.

resiliency and balance

Resiliency and ability to go with the flow is essential.

So how do we find balance and sustain a meaningful life of our own while we journey down this rocky road and occasional emotional roller coaster of caregiving?

Check In with Your Self

First, check in and take stock where you are right now. Put this task on your calendar twice a year, or at least when you’re planning your goals for the next year. This is a good exercise to do around New Year’s or on your birthday.

It’s much easier in the long run to do this exercise once or twice a year, to hold yourself accountable and to find ways to positively enrich your life, than to live in denial, avoidance and depression, and have it affect your physical, mental and emotional health. Then who will take care of you?

My Life Satisfaction Pie

I don’t remember where I learned this when I started counseling years ago, but here’s a very simple yet powerful tool I use to quickly check in with myself to quickly get an overall picture of how I’m doing and where I need help, as well as to set goals to work on strengthening and enriching areas of my life.

Life Satisfaction Pie | Creating Daily Joys

Print out the pie shape Life Satisfaction chart and fill in the “other” spaces with other important goals you’re working on that may not fit into any of the other areas, such as travel goals, education, a weight loss challenge, housing or environment, retirement or volunteering. Or leave it blank and ignore the “other” spaces for now.

Let’s look at each slice of that pie that comprises our lives. As you contemplate each area, consider how satisfied you are with that area of your life on a 1-10 scale. Put a dot in each slice of the pie, picturing the very center of the pie as zero satisfaction, midway as five or somewhat satisfied, and the outer circle as 10, or fully satisfied.

Family

This includes your nuclear and extended family. If your satisfaction varies drastically between the two, you may want to split this piece of the pie to differentiate this so you can address it later. How close and supportive is your family? Do you live close or so far apart it’s hard to visit often? Do family members nurture and encourage one another or criticize and tear each other down? How satisfied are you with your slice(s) of family pie?

Social Network

Do you and your friends mutually support and encourage one another, make time for one another face to face? FaceTime and FaceBook are great for keeping in touch with friends who live halfway across the world. But mostly consider your local support network of friends you get together with socially to have fun with, support each other’s dreams, and those you can share your heart and heartaches with.

Work

Is your work challenging and meaningful? Is the stress level healthy or unhealthy? Is your work boring or stimulating? Do your relationships at work increase or decrease your satisfaction with your work?

Creativity

Do you spend some time on a regular basis dreaming and creating with hobbies, art, do-it-yourself projects, gardening, music, reading or writing? Do you get enough time to create? Or have you yet to find a meaningful creative outlet?

Financial Freedom

Do you have enough to pay your bills on time and a little extra for savings, charity and fun? Are you saving for retirement and emergency expenditures, or just scraping by paycheck to paycheck? Do you need a plan to get debt-free?

Spiritual Growth

Do you live by faith and trust that everything will work out, spend time in prayer and meditation, or worship with others? Is there an empty hole in your spirit that nothing can fill, or a fullness to the meaning of live that you want to share with others? I know some of my readers and friends have different spiritual beliefs from me. But for me, this is the most important area of my life. If my relationship with God is not in a good place, nothing else in my life is in balance. I can’t imagine how I would face the challenges in my life without a relationship with God.

Emotional

Do you take time to feel and process and manage your feelings and stress? Do you meet your emotional needs in healthy, or unhealthy, ways? Do you live in denial, anger, depression and resentment, or do you seek a clean slate daily with forgiveness for your self and others? Do you have safe and significant others in your life you can share your deepest emotions with, without judgement? Do you seek to live a life of joy with a positive attitude, even through the stress and challenges you are facing?

Physical

Are you in good health or facing health challenges? Do you exercise regularly and live at a healthy weight? Do you live with gratitude daily for all the physical blessings you do have, instead of jealousy or envy for all the things you don’t have? If we do not feel well physically, all of life becomes a challenge and we need to seek more help where needed, to cope with these challenges.

Love and Intimacy

Is your marriage mutually happy and fulfilling? If you’re not married and not in a relationship, you may feel this doesn’t apply to you. But whether married, single, widowed or divorced, we all have a need for love and intimacy with others – we all need hugs, a spiritual connection, and a good friend with a listening heart. We all need others who love us unconditionally, and those whom we love unconditionally.

Other Areas and Goals

Travel – Are you getting out and doing fun things by yourself, and with others? Are you going to places you want to see and doing things you want to do that enrich your life?

Retirement – Are you busy winding down your career and preparing for retirement? Are you seeking the help you need for the years ahead financially, medically, emotionally? Are you looking forward to it or dreading it?

Are you working on a weight loss goal, busy getting your education, building a home, facing a major move or starting a family? How satisfied are you with how these other areas are going? Is the stress level good and manageable or affecting your health? What other areas and goals are you aiming for?

Connect the Dots

Now, take your Life Satisfaction pie and connect the dots like a dot to dot puzzle and see what your pie shape looks like. Don’t be alarmed if it looks something like a miss-shapen fallen cake or a funky star fish! It’s perfectly okay – we’re all a work in progress. It would be very rare for anyone’s life to be a perfect circle, even if all the planets are aligned!

Get an Objective Viewpoint

Even though we usually know where our life is out of balance, this exercise can help us look at it more objectively.

We’re all great at giving advice to others. 😉 So, as you look at your life pie, imagine this is your best friend’s life. What loving and caring advice would you give them to improve those areas that are not as satisfying as you’d like them to be?

Make a List

Make a list of three positive things you can do to work on those areas that are less than fulfilling. No judgement, condemnation or don’ts. Just three positive, loving suggestions you can reasonably do.

Then use this list to make your goals for the year ahead to plug these activities into your calendar to make it more likely you’ll actually do them. Also make a list of any resources or items you need to accomplish these tasks.

If you are stuck not knowing what to do or where to start to improve an area, ask for help! Maybe you’ve tried everything you know to do. Perhaps you are too stressed or falling into denial or depression to be objective. Ask a trusted friend to do this exercise with you and help each other with positive ideas.

Another idea is to take this with you to see a counselor who can help you sort through this objectively, and support you through the changes you want or need to make to have a more balanced and fulfilled life.

Be Gentle with Yourself

The key to taking caring of yourself is to be loving and gentle, yet thoroughly honest with yourself, and this takes inner strength and courage. Avoid false guilt and self-condemnation. Seek spiritual help for anything eating at your conscience; seek forgiveness from others and for yourself. Accept yourself where you are and take small positive steps. Ask for help where needed. Watch things improve little by little. When setbacks come, as they always will, don’t despair. You will know what to do to work on rebalancing, building more positive habits and experiencing fewer life crises.

The key to taking care of yourself

Regardless of whether your stress comes from caregiving, parenting, or other life stressors, we all experience challenges when it comes to balancing all the parts of our lives.

What are your biggest challenges in finding balance in your life? If you did this exercise, did you find it helpful? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Credit:  

The beautiful medallion ornament illustration used to make my Life Satisfaction Pie comes from The Graphics Fairy.

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