When caregiving doesn't spark your joy, what can you do about it? That's a question I've been mulling over lately. Ever since I posted a survey about stress and compassion fatigue in caregivers at my website. Within 2 days, the survey had been completed 500 times. Less than 3 weeks later, that number has risen to 1,313, and the results of the survey were disturbing.
98% of survey participants said their caregiving duties add stress to their lives.
80% said their caregiving duties cause sleep deprivation on a regular basis.
91% said stress has negatively impacted their mental health.
92% said stress has negatively impacted their physical health.
Overwhelming demands and isolation are the 2 greatest causes of the additional stress.
To borrow a phrase from Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, caregiving is sparking as much stress as joy in parents raising kids with special needs. Which is why I've been pondering the question posed at the beginning of this post: when caregiving doesn't spark your joy, what can you do about it?
My pondering led to 4 strategies designed to reduce stress and respark joy in parents caring for kids with special needs and disabilities. Strategies I wish I'd had the wisdom to implement when our little boy was very, very ill and my stress level was through the roof.
When caregiving doesn't spark your joy, I hope these strategies help rekindle it.
Eliminate. Get rid of non-essential sources of stress that spark no joy in your life. I had to employ this technique this past December. My mom was dealing with health issues, our home was a hamster wheel of stomach and respiratory bugs, I had a book manuscript deadline to meet. Every time I thought of writing our Christmas letter, an event that normally sparks joy in my heart, my stress level increased. Once I decided to skip this year's Christmas letter, the joy of caring for Mom and nursing our family back to health increased.
Manipulate. Find a way to manipulate essentials that don't spark your joy into things that do. I first applied this strategy to my fitness regime because I hate to exercise. Especially in during Iowa winters when walking outdoors, the only physical activity I find vaguely satisfying, isn't an option. Exercise can't be eliminated because I need to stay in good shape to complete the work God has called me to do. So I've learned to manipulate this essential activity into something enjoyable by saving up and listening to my favorite podcasts only during exercise time. Believe it or not, I now look forward to exercising every morning.
Reframe. Determining the true purpose in essential joyless activities is the first step in implementing this strategy. A few days ago I was absolutely joyless as I drove to a speaking engagement. I puzzled over my lack of joy and finally pinpointed its source. I believed the information to be presented wouldn't be well-received, and I suspected people wouldn't like me. Then I could remind myself of the true purpose of the speaking engagement. The true purpose wasn't to be well-liked, but to present information that could be used to improve the lives of children. Immediately the day was reframed by its truly joyful purpose.
Renew. When the essentials of life and our caregiving duties can't be eliminated, manipulated, or reframed, one grace-filled strategy remains for Christ followers. We can renew our faith in our eternal Caregiver who is able to accomplish all things by His strength. When we relinquish our weakness and inadequacies to Him, His everlasting light floods our souls, and the spark of our joy is rekindled, fueled by the flame of His eternal love.
Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She's also the creator and host of the Different Dream website. The book she is working with Dr. Gary Chapman about using the five love languages in special needs families will be released in August of 2019.