National Family Caregivers Month - Dr. Amanda Aster-McKenna - Licensed Psychologist in Montclair, NJ
Welcome to November!
This month’s mental health awareness initiative is dedicated to “National Family Caregivers Month.” This month allows us to celebrate the contributions of all caregivers, provide them with tools they may need, and continue to advocate for individuals with mental illness.
Caregivers do so much for others and they deserve to prioritize their well-being too, without feeling or being guilted for doing so! Did you know that about 43% of caregivers reported needing help coping with the stress of their invaluable role? Caregiving can make maintaining one’s physical and mental health more difficult and may put a strain on work and social relationships.
You can't take care of others if you can't take care of yourself!
One of the most important metaphors that I utilize with my patients, and with myself as well, is the Oxygen Mask Rule for self-care. If you have ever been on an airplane, you will at some point hear the flight attendants use some variation of this rule: “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead bin. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose first, before assisting others.” What could possibly be so wrong with helping others first in this scenario?
In the case of the airplane example, oxygen masks are used in situations where the oxygen level has dropped to a dangerously low level where, without our mask, we will quickly lose consciousness. If we do not make putting on our own mask a priority, we will not be able to help anyone else.
When any form of helping, including caregiving, seems to leave very little time for anything else, the end result is often the experience of burnout. This can include feelings of mental and physical exhaustion, being psychologically “checked out”, feeling out of touch with one’s own body and surroundings, as well as frustration, anger, and helplessness.
How to avoid burnout
For anyone in a caregiving role, we need to manage our own self-care to avoid burnout. This includes consciously and on purpose planning ahead to include time in our day to take care of our own mental, physical, and emotional needs. Self-care can include behaviors such as exercising; eating mindfully; connecting with peers and family members in a meaningful way; having alone time to unwind and regroup; engaging in creative endeavors; going to therapy; being out in nature; journaling; listening to your favorite genre of music; reading a book; meditation, etc.
Self-care can look different for everyone, but one thing remains the same – if we do not take care of ourselves, we will eventually be unable to effectively take care of others. As a commitment to this month’s mental health awareness initiative of acknowledging, showing appreciation, and honoring all caregivers of all forms, what is one small, meaningful, achievable, realistic, and timely action that you are willing to take today in line with self-care?
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*Peace, Love, & Fierce Acceptance*
Dr. Amanda Aster-McKenna, Psy.D.
NJ Licensed Psychologist #5888, Private Practice, Montclair, NJ
Adjunct Professor, Kean University, Department of Advanced Studies in Psychology
Manager, New York City Chapter of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science
Board Member, Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris