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By: Nancy Niessen

I don’t know a lot about caregiver burnout when it comes to elderly family members. It’s something I plan to read up on because I feel like I’m experiencing it these days.

As I wrote about in my last blog for TMC, Reframing is Ageless, I am the primary caregiver for my mother. She had a lot of medical appointments in the past month. I was also focussed on helping my son and his three friends get an apartment set up for their end-of-month move. They have hectic schedules, so most of the work fell to me, which I have no complaint about – I thoroughly enjoyed getting their space ready for them to move into. But just like holidays, that excitement and positive stress still burns energy and exacts a toll on our systems. Add to that my aging mother’s medical appointments, a major car breakdown, some plumbing repairs, negotiating a new mortgage, and limited time to rest and recharge…I’m sure you can imagine my mounting stress level. Although I recognized the signs of being in a state of Low Energy/High Tension, I pushed through because things needed to get done.

One of the things that I’ve been pondering this month is the impact of a “complicated” relationship with a parent on our self-regulation. What if we don’t have a warm, fuzzy relationship with our elderly parent? What if we find the relationship challenging? How does that impact our stress level and how does our stress level impact that relationship? Does a challenging relationship not result in other stressors, perhaps hidden ones in more than one domain? As I suggested in my first blog, we need to be mindful of our own self-regulation in order to co-regulate and be at our best when working with an elderly relative or client. This is especially true when the relationship is a challenging one and/or when we will be in challenging situations with our elderly parent. How do we do this when we have stressors of our own in many of the different domains? A challenging relationship can be the thing that breaks us, that brings us to the point where we realize that we are really not in a good place in terms of our own self-regulation. However gentle we try to be with ourselves, however understanding we are in terms of recognizing all that’s on our plate, guilt can creep in and be another stressor. Why am I feeling like this? Shouldn’t I like my parent? Shouldn’t I be able to help out whenever it’s needed or requested? Guilt and emotional confusion can be powerful hidden stressors.

So what do we do when feeling stressed by caring for an elderly relative? What if there is no one else to call on for help with an aging parent? For me, I know that I need to find the time to be with people who are restorative for me. I need to limit my time around those people whom I find draining. I know that I need to get back into my exercise routine. I know that I need to get back into my meditation routine. I need to limit social engagements and spend some time cocooning at home. And I need to plan a longer chunk of time to rest and restore once the move is completed. When I am not in a Low Energy/High Tension state things might look and feel different. Right now, I need my oxygen mask on in order to restore my energy and return to a place of calm. After that, I can continue to help my elderly parent and feel better about doing so. This incredibly busy month is almost over, and once I’ve wrapped up my course work for the Level 2 Program, I’m heading out to put my feet in the sand and spend some time alone with nature.

Nancy Niessen is a retired elementary teacher whose career spanned over three decades. Most of her time was spent in the Early Years and Special Education. During her teaching career, she also instructed ETFO’s Kindergarten Specialist AQ and was part of her local Reggio Study Group.