Here is a part of being a caregiver or healthcare professional that cannot be ignored: every day, we encounter people who are dealing with difficult circumstances of one kind or another. As I discussed in a previous post, being fully engaged and present with people in need is a hugely important gift to them. Being fully engaged is exhausting work, though. No one can sustain that high level of emotional engagement all the time, and people who try to do so eventually burn out to the point that they begin pushing their clients away to a safer emotional distance. The caregiver loses, and so does the client.
This means we caregivers must take time to withdraw from that high level of engagement – we must take time to take care of ourselves. There are millions of ways to do this, and everyone has his own preferences. Whatever works for you is what you should do – just be sure to take the time for it! For what it’s worth, though, I thought I’d share a few of the ways I have been taking breaks lately.
Take note – you don’t have to be a music therapist or even a trained musician to take advantage of these ideas. Just adapt them to meet your own needs and preferences.
Listening to “my music” Being a music therapist, I find that it is as important to take a break from my clients’ music as it is to take a break from my clients. What constitutes “my music” changes frequently since I use such a wide range of music with my clients. For now, “my music” includes a lot of music from Latin America and the Far East, which has a completely different musical flavor than what I play myself, and which doesn’t make an appearance often in my music therapy sessions. Listening to this music (usually in the car between sessions) helps me to detach from the music and interactions in the previous session. Perhaps you need a break from listening to Frank Sinatra or country western classics. Your favorite music might not work well in the caregiving setting, but listen to your heart’s content as part of your own self-care.
Improvisation at the piano I put “my music” in quotes above, because, I usually think of my music as that which I improvise or write myself. I am not so much into sitting down to write songs, but I do love to sit at my piano and just play. I was actually a few years into professional work before I finally convinced myself that it was okay just to play, without creating an amazing composition or playing something serious. If that is where you are in your musical life, please, give yourself permission to mess around a bit. Even if you’ve never played the piano before, you can still experiment at the keyboard. A good place to start is just playing the black keys on the piano. (Try it – it will sound great!)
Silence. I have so much music in my daily work that sometimes I just need silence. Sure, silence can be hard to come by sometimes, but even just choosing to leave the radio and TV off can bring down the noise level enough to give me a chance to disengage from the intensity of music therapy clinical work. This silence allows me to be more mindful of whatever else I am doing as well, so even folding laundry or preparing food can give me some release from the work of professional caregiving. You can choose to give yourself some silence. Even a few minutes can make a difference.
As caregivers, we all need to find our own ways to let go of the emotional intensity of the caregiving situation and nurture ourselves. What ways are you using currently to take care of yourself? Please share below.