Last week, I overheard a conversation at a medical office in the waiting room about what a physician said and what the patient 'heard.' It appeared that the family member with this person was their caregiver, and I could hear a tone and language that I've listened to before—my own as a caregiver.
We have all been in situations where we are both tired and anxious, feeling like a tetherball pulled in many directions, and we snap.
A harsh reaction may come from someone's pain or fear, and your response to someone can be a powerful hit or a supportive landing place. If you find yourself ready to react like that and able to catch yourself before that breaking point, take a deep breath or excuse yourself for a few minutes rather than continuing the conversation with a hasty, emotionally charged response. If an adverse reaction slips out before you can stop it, don't beat yourself up—pause. Breathe. Be open and honest with the other person, apologize, and reframe your response.
I'm willing to bet that every caregiver, myself included, has experienced emotional exhaustion in some form. We've all heard the words, "I can't do this anymore," come out of our mouths, or at least echoed loudly in our brains. Almost all of us have been surprised at the words we've spoken, which come from fear, frustration, anger, and the big one-two combination: feeling resentful and guilty about that feeling.
Stress is real. It's not something you should 'get over,' and it's not something you should have been 'smart enough to see coming.' It is essential to open our awareness of how we express ourselves and how we view others:
Solutions will emerge with an open mind – don't close yourself up in judgments.
When you engage with others, listen with the intention of understanding, not responding. Truly hear what the other person is saying, including being open to their feelings.
If you've had a bad day or are overly stressed or tired, that is NOT the time to have a conversation with someone. There is nothing wrong with saying that you can't talk or meet right now, but you know it is an essential conversation and set up another time. If it is genuinely urgent, don't hesitate to let the other person know that you're in a depleted state, but you'll do your best to have an open mind.
Be responsible with your words. Be open to knowing that other people have bad days, too. Listen before you speak. Pause before you react.