Whether it’s a family member or friend, when someone is in crisis we can often forget ourselves as we try to help comfort those close to us. However, sometimes when we do this we can end up putting ourselves at greater risk of depression, anxiety or burnout. Continue reading to discover 5 simple strategies to help you cope effectively.
When we see a family member or friend in distress we feel the need to help them with whatever they're struggling with - this can be especially true when we have loved ones that suffer from mental illness. Often times, we do our best to try to help in whatever way we can and do what we think is right for our friend or family member. This is not always met with gratitude by those needing care nor by professionals involved in their care. All of this can lead you to feel frustrated, exhausted and exasperated. So what to do now? Follow these steps to ensure that you don't burn out from helping out.
5 Simple Strategies to Help Yourself while Helping Others
1. Know Thyself
You have to know yourself if you're going to help your family member or friend. That means knowing what you need to keep yourself healthy and happy. Remember that in order for you to be there for others you need to be in a state of mind where you can be patient and understanding. Be sure to focus on the basics; eat properly, sleep well and continue engaging in exercise or your favourite hobbies. Be careful not to push yourself past your limits as it can have severe emotional and physical consequences.
2. Don't "fix it" for them
As a psychologist, I see this ALL THE TIME - we want so badly to help out our daughter, sister, best friend or partner that we try to “fix it” all! What can be difficult is that sometimes the more we try to fix it - the more we face resistance on the part of our loved one. It’s not your job to fix it for them and, as a supporter, the best thing you can do is to love them. Spend time with them, listen and mirror their emotions - one of the most important things in life is to feel that we're understood by those we love. Not only will your relationship with your love one improve - you'll also feel less resentful and frustrated.
3. Set Boundaries
This can be such a challenge - especially if the one suffering is your child. As a parent, you always want to be there for your children. But what can sometimes happen (not always) is that we can end up creating dependence on the part of our loved one. Without wanting to, we end up becoming the "crisis hotline", the ER, the advocate, the chauffeur, the maid, the cook and the provider to our loved ones. The problem becomes three fold; our loved ones do not learn that they can do things for themselves, we may feel overburdened by the multiple roles necessitated in caring for our loved ones, and we may not have time to care for ourselves. This point is especially important as research shows that caregiving increases our likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety.
4. It takes a village...
Often times we may not recognise how much we may need support from others. It can be healing to open up to peers who search in the same struggles and can help alleviate the guilt that most family members feel. It’s important to know that you did not bring this on and hearing others’ experience can help you to accept the situation. Support groups can offer education about the disorder as well as insights into how to cope with loved ones. Ami-Quebec, in Montreal, offers a wide range of psychoeducational groups to help family members or friends cope with loved ones.
5. Get Educated
If you're unsure how to help your loved one, there's a variety of tools out there to help you. Education can be key in helping you gain perspective and learn to distance yourself from the illness (not the loved one). You'd be surprised to see how many self-help books exist to help you learn how to cope – many of which are probably available at your local library. If you're worried about a specific situation or are really unsure what to do, ask your family member if you can attend a doctor's appointment or therapy session to get information from their health care providers. While doctors can provide you with facts on the illness, psychologists or social workers can help facilitate communication with your family member. Don't be shy to get help for yourself; you need to have support in order to be able to support others.