Caregiver tips: 'Don't just do something, stand there'

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By Carol Dimmett, chaplain, Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education

champlaindimmett.jpgAnyone who has been a caregiver for any amount of time probably knows what the term PTSD means.  

For those who don't, it stands for post-traumatic stress disorder and it can happen to people who are caregivers for an extended period of time.  

They may hear the slogan, "Don't just stand there, do something," over and over in their heads.  

That's partly because being a caregiver, there's always something to be done.  

In honor of Caregiver Week, I suggest another slogan for you. (OK, it isn't a slogan; I saw it on a bumper sticker.)  

"Don't just do something, stand there."

Take time for yourself

I like that one so much. How many people take time for themselves?  

How many times have people said to you, 'How is _____ doing?' Has anyone asked how you are doing? When was the last time you heard, 'I'm coming over to sit with _____ so you can go out to dinner?"

This week is your week, so relish it. Take a mini-vacation from your busyness, stress and responsibilities. Get in touch with the wonderful you.

What do you want to do to take care of this incredible person (called you)? How do you want to make sure you are cared for and pampered? Have you ever thought, "What about me -- my needs, my plans?" (Did I just say that out loud?)  

You may have to repeat that a few times to be sure you mean it. You're going on a mini-vacation to protect your health, recharge your batteries and decrease your stress. But most of all, you're going to do it BECAUSE YOU NEED IT to keep going.

This is important and you are important. Bathe in the recognition and admiration of these words.  Now, take a bath, go for a walk, go to a movie. Do something you love and let someone else be the caregiver for a while. YES, SOMEONE ELSE.

This week, take a vacation from guilt, too. Caregivers have feelings and not just the pretty ones with bows on top. They get angry, frustrated, irritated and overtired.  

Enjoy and breathe
It's tempting to express only the "nice" emotions, but that's not going to help prevent or deal with the stress of being a caregiver. So journal, sing, scream, talk to someone, dance, play loud music, punch a pillow, or whatever it takes to get those feelings out.  

Do you think you can't take the time, that it will take too long to care for yourself?  

Here's something you can do any time of the day or night, and you can do it for as little or as long as you like. It's getting in touch with the silence or the devine within.

Are you ready? Close your eyes and get in a comfortable sitting position, with your back straight and arms and legs uncrossed. Now, take three slow, deep breaths and let them out slowly. Then, breathe normally and think of a word that is meaningful to you each time you exhale. Some use the word "peace," but use the word that resonates best with you.  

Do this for a minute or so and feel a peace flowing within you. It's a very powerful "mini-vacation" that you can do anywhere.  

I'm including a prayer that, to me, expresses the best that we can hope for and do. Enjoy and breathe!


  God, I need you

  Carry me when I'm weak;

  Hold me when I'm tired.

  Love me when I cannot

  Care anymore

  And when I huddle

  Lonely and afraid,

    Cover me with your strong,

  Protective hands,

  Guard my sleep, and

  Wake me up in the morning,

  Rested and strong,

And ready to try again.

MD Anderson chaplains are here to guide patients on their spiritual journey, whatever path it may take. Chaplains of all denominations are available at any hour to patients and their family members, with worship services, bedside visits, prayer requests, support groups and online message boards. Contact the office of the Department of Spiritual Care at 713-792-7184 for more information.

I have worked in Chaplaincy for 13 years, including two years of Clinical Pastoral Education training. I came to MD Anderson while studying for a my Masters of Divinity degree, and changed my plan for being a church minister to hospital chaplain. I feel "called" to this work and am honored to be here.

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