Accidental Advocacy: The Journey of an Unexpected Caregiver

advocacy critical self-care emotional intelligence - optimism emotional intelligence - self actualization emotional intelligence - self regard self-trust Jul 21, 2023

Caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience: It creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time, is accompanied by high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability, has the capacity to create secondary stress in multiple life domains such as work and family relationships, and frequently requires high levels of vigilance. 

Source: Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Caregiving, Richard Schulz, PhD and Paula R. Sherwood, PhD, RN, CNRN, Published National Library of Medicine, 2008

As a successful and otherwise resourceful woman executive, you can expect to feel varying and intense levels of overwhelm when taking on caregiver responsibilities. This might not have been part of our Executive Encore plan.

When we receive the call that results in finding ourselves in the unexpected caregiver role, we must pause, reflect, and acknowledge that our own self-care must remain a priority. At this critical moment, our self-care is in jeopardy of being pushed aside when juggling roles demand high levels of physical, mental, and emotional energy. We need all our resources to cope with unpredictability and uncontrollability. In fact, we must level up our self-care in order to be effective and efficient in caring for others. Some of us might even find ourselves caring for caregivers!

All our skills, capabilities, and resources will be called upon to respond to this demanding role. 

In this blog, I offer strategies that you might have already implemented in other roles - personal and professional. In the context of caregiving, these strategies will serve you in maintaining your well-being as you integrate caregiving needs with your own needs:

  1. Take time for yourself: Make sure to take time each day in solitude,
  2. Engage in healthy activities: Take yourself away from the physical, mental, and emotional stressors and demands of caregiving responsibilities.
    • Commit to a simple exercise routine. Any level of physical activity releases endorphins, the body's natural mood boosters. A simple routine of yoga and a brisk walk will help in curbing stress and breaking the cycle of anxiety. Yoga connects you to your breath - your life-force. A brisk walk helps to clear your mind, change your perspective, and focus on beauty around you.
    • Practise mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or journaling can help keep stress and anxiety levels in check.
  3. Create a simple plan for caregiving responsibilities: Even a simple plan that you create, review, and revise will provide a sense of control and will help you cope when unpredictable challenges crop up. 
  4. Leverage available resources: Ask your healthcare professional about caregiver support, counseling services, and respite care services. There are many resources in your community that can provide a wealth of information and support. Caregiving is one of the most difficult roles and set of responsibilities you will ever have. As capable as you might be, there is no shame in admitting that you need help. Add the resources to your plan.
  5. Engage your delegation skills: Delegate where and what you can. You don't have to do it all. Use your plan to identify what tasks can be delegated. Enroll others in the plan. Delegation is critical in allowing you to step-back to assess the big picture. Delegation will give you the much needed time to focus on your own self-care.
  6. Stay connected with your network: One of the best things you can do for yourself during this time is to stay connected with your support network – friends, family, colleagues, and healthcare professionals. Here's where you experience the benefits of cultivating strong bonds. Determine who can provide emotional support. Who can offer advice from their own experiences and expertise? Add them to your contact list in your plan.
  7. Reaffirm your purpose: Stay connected with your own purpose and the demands of your work. Reconnect with what inspires you and brings joy into your world. Make time for you and what you love to do to promote a sense of fulfillment and self-actualization. Connecting often with your vision and purpose can boost optimism and prevent falling into distress, despair, and depression.
  8. Advocate for yourself: Be aware that the low rumble of discontent can build up over time. Don't let it go unnoticed. Learn to recognize and address your signs of stress, distress, and despair. If unchecked, the insidious low rumble of discontent can become chronic leading to serious, sometimes life-threatening, effects for your health and well-being. Acknowledging the difficulty of caregiving and advocating for yourself can help you to keep inspired and motivated in the many areas of your life as you navigate through the caregiver role.
  9. Develop a healthy Self-Regard with Self-Trust: Give yourself credit for the valuable skills and experience you bring to this role. With proper planning and self-care, you can successfully integrate your caregiver role with your professional and personal life. Acknowledge that you are capable, competent, even brilliant. Trust that you will make it through this transition with grace and strength. Believe that you will thrive and flourish. Take time to reflect on our own needs, values, and goals, so that you can make informed decisions in the different areas of your life and in your different roles.

Final Word - Your Executive Encore

Practise self-compassion. This list of strategies might feel daunting. Wherever you are in your journey, treat yourself with compassion and kindness. You won't get it all working smoothly according to plan in a week; in a month; or even ever. There will be set-backs. There will be times when you just cannot stick to any plan; or connect with your friends, colleagues, and family; or meet work deadlines. Stay focused on taking care of yourself, doing what's best for you, and avoid jeopardizing your well-being. Ultimately, this experience will bring more fulfillment. It is yet one other role in your Executive Encore.

For resources available to aspiring women entrepreneurs and business owners of all ages, contact me with your request at [email protected]

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