That small directive, which I’m sure many of us have heard before and I dubbed “The Delta Doctrine,” contains applicable wisdom for so many life circumstances, but probably none as poignant as for those of us serving as a caregiver.

Compassion and love often mistakenly lead us to hold our own breath while trying to help someone else breathe, but if we do, it is only a matter of time before we find ourselves gasping for air. If we are unable to breathe, how can we help anyone else?

Many of America’s 65 million caregivers desperately try to assist a vulnerable loved one while growing dangerously close to “blacking out” themselves. Grabbing the mask first is not a sign of selfishness, but rather a whisper of wisdom. Unfortunately, that soft voice is hard to hear over the often deafening cries of someone we love.

3 Simple Steps to Survive the Turbulent Moments of Caregiving

WHEN THE TURBULENCE OF CAREGIVING HITS, THREE SIMPLE THINGS CAN IMMEDIATELY HELP TO CALM ME DOWN AND MAKE HEALTHIER AND WISER DECISIONS: WAIT, WATER, WALK.

Wait

Take a moment before responding. Regardless of the culprit (pain, finances, your loved one’s poor attitude), if you choose to pick up the emotional tug-of-war rope two things could happen: you could “win” and end up on your rear or “lose” and end up on your face. Don’t pick up the rope! Wait and save your energy. Rarely will you need to apologize or make amends for something you didn’t say. Breathe slowly until you’re calmer. Stress and anger are toxic to good decisions.

Water

Simply drink cool water. It will buy you time to think a little more clearly. Avoid sugary drinks and even coffee. Your body needs water, and your brain needs water. From high blood pressure to fatigue, water helps a myriad of issues. A fortified brain functions better. Drink to think!

Walk

Caregiving creates stress, so when things are bouncing off the walls, make the time to put on comfortable shoes and walk off some of the tension. You truly are putting on the mask first, getting fresh oxygen to your body and brain and working off anxiety. Walking immediately soothes the body and mind, allowing you to bring your best to caregiving.

Responsible caregivers put themselves first, pushing back the chaos of caregiving to create a peaceful relationship between them and the one they care for. In doing so, both the caregiver and the person in pain are healthier, confident, stronger and more in control of their own behavior. {PP}

deltaPeter Rosenberger has been a caregiver for almost 30 years and is the author of Wear Comfortable Shoes — Surviving and Thriving as a Caregiver. He is the president of Standing With Hope, www.standingwithhope.com, and hosts a caregiving radio show on Nashville’s 1510 WLAC. Learn more about his life and his work on page 31 of our spring issue.