Maintaining Emotional Strength

by Dr. Patrica Jones-Blessman

Are you a Black woman caregiver feeling run down and emotionally drained while struggling to maintain your emotional strength? You’re not alone! Studies show that Black women caregivers experience significantly higher levels of stress and emotional trauma than their male or non-black counterparts.

Not only do we experience emotional impacts at a higher rate, but we are also impacted financially as well. According to a report by the Aspen Institute, 57 percent of African American caregivers spend more than 34 percent of their annual income on costs associated with providing care, while white caregivers spend about 14 percent. This is a large burden to carry for the Black community.

This is why maintaining your emotional strength is such a critical part of caregiving. Now, what does strength look like and what does it not look like? As women, we need to evaluate what “strong” really means.

Emotional strength is NOT

  • Being superwoman at all times.
  • Straining yourself to the point of an emotional breakdown.
  • Saying yes, even when you are exhausted and emotionally drained.
  • Abandoning your own self-care for the benefit of others. 

Emotional strength IS

  • Maintaining a positive mindset in bleak situations and relying on God for strength.
  • Using tools to calmly handle stressful situations.
  • Giving yourself grace and understanding (even when others don’t!).

As a caregiver, you likely juggle several roles and duties every day. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working professional, or caretaker for a loved one, taking care of others can be emotionally taxing. Here are things you can do to reinforce your emotional health and boost your resilience. They have also helped me keep my sanity (and my sense of humor) intact while being a caregiver.

DO Tighten your support circle!

Caregivers are typical “givers” in general and they tend to attract people who “take”. You can protect yourself from this by limiting your interactions with people who are looking to be cared for. This can mean both emotionally, financially, or otherwise.

You only have a finite amount of energy to give! Be careful of who you share it with and protect your peace at all costs. Also, watch out for relationships that historically have been one-sided and embrace  “giving”  friends who notice that you are on a journey and choose to be a caregiver to you. Be willing to accept their willingness to shoulder some of the load. 

DON’T Give in to the pressure to be “strong” all the times

The “strong, Black woman machismo persona” doesn’t allow us to be vulnerable so we tend to ignore signs that we are in trouble for the sake of pushing forward. We also deal with a myriad of feelings that can include guilt and even anger, resentment, and regret (let’s be honest about this!). 

We don’t get a chance to say to ourselves or others  “I am NOT Ok”. It is critical to be aware of those moments when you have reached your “last nerve” or better yet when you are simply getting close to it. When you are tap-dancing on your last few nerves, this is the time to seek support.  Don’t wait until you hit your last nerve because you will need that remaining strength to enact your self-care plan. 

DO Be aware of your limits and set boundaries 

If you hear nothing else, hear this! Creating boundaries is essential to maintaining emotional strength. We frequently hear this platitude that  “God doesn’t give us any more than we can bear”. Honestly, I wrestle with this statement. Is this a God-given assignment or burden?  Is this someone trying to guilt us into carrying the burden alone? If we say it to ourselves, is this our own ego thinking only we can do this? The truth is, your value is not built on how much you can bear!  Simply learn to say “no” without feeling the need to explain and validate your stance.

We can find joy in caregiving for family members who have loved and supported us. Now, there are tougher situations where you are caregiving for someone that you have a difficult relationship with and even endured some abuse from. Please don’t feel alone in this as this is a common situation.  If caring for someone triggers mental health breakdowns, you must address this. An essential part of maintaining emotional strength is taking care of yourself

Taking care of yourself emotionally in this situation can be asking about financial assistance available (it’s ok to question taking on the full financial burden of caregiving!), seeking personal mental health counseling for your issues, or seeking external part-time care to ease your burden. 

Through God, we can access the emotional fortitude we need to overcome our challenges. And don’t forget to laugh, smile and see the positive in every situation, I promise there is one! 

You can keep in touch with me at jonesblessman@yahoo.com  

I  pray for your continued strength on your caregiving journey!

Continue to follow our caregiving blog series at https://www.drjeanneporterking.com/blog.

Resources

The Aspen Institute

https://www.aspeninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/The-True-Cost-of-Caregiving.pdf

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