Sometimes, it is just exhausting. . .

Masculine presenting person with brown skin puts a hand to his head, with tired eyes on the camera

If I hear anything consistently from my clients, it is that they are exhausted. It isn’t always from the physical labor of caring for the people in their lives, sometimes it is just from the emotional work of always being “on” – a hypervigilant state.

Hypervigilance is the persistence of increased alertness or enhanced situational-awareness, where the individual is constantly assessing potential threats in their surroundings. Soldiers suffer from it; worried mothers suffer from it and caregivers suffer from it because we’re all on “high alert” waiting for the other shoe to fall and the next dreadful event to occur. It is that sense of being constantly watching, in an effort to prevent the danger that is just around the corner. It takes a serious toll on our wellbeing!

The hypervigilant state of caregiving takes a toll in several ways. It can erode your sleep (you wake up with every real or imagined noise – especially those sounds coming from the person whose needs you tend to). Hypervigilance can send a cascade of chemicals coursing through your body, including cortisol – which can impact multiple body systems including digestion (weight management) blood pressure, and even increase the amount of generalized inflammation your body endures – altering your sense of wellbeing, making you ill.

What’s a caregiver to do? 

First, recognize the symptoms. They often fall into four types, Emotional, Behavioral, Physical, and Interpersonal…

Emotional symptoms

  • emotional outbursts
  • fearing the worst without an obvious cause
  • feeling overwhelmed in crowded or noisy places
  • overreacting to stimuli or to those around you, compared with what’s usual for you
  • persistent worry

Behavioral symptoms

  • heightened awareness of surroundings
  • hyperekplexia (intense startle response)
  • inability to focus on what’s in front of you
  • scanning the room for suspicious behavior, weapons, or dangers

Physical symptoms

  • difficulty sleeping
  • enlarged pupils
  • increased heart rate
  • quick breathing
  • restlessness
  • sweating

Interpersonal symptoms

  • avoiding social interaction
  • taking things personally
  • focusing intently on people’s expressions or tone of voice
  • friction in relationships at home, work, or school

If you see any of these in yourself, it’s time to make a change. You don’t have to exhibit ALL of the symptoms to know that hypervigilance is becoming a problem for you – just a few of them are enough to let you know, it is time to take action – it is time to focus on self-care!

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!

Self-care is definitely your way out of hypervigilance – noticing what it is doing to you and realizing that some of if is self-imposed, unrealistic, and unnecessary.

I know that for me, realizing that I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, even when no shoes were dropping around me, woke me up to my self-imposed distress. This allowed me to relax and realize, I was NOT in charge of the whole world. I was not the sole-protector of my loved-one and, sometimes, scary things would happen, but we’d be okay, because I could handle whatever might come. That was an important awakening!

With that realization, I could make better choices, including letting go of some of the anxiety that naturally accompanies being responsible for someone else’s care and wellbeing. I had to take care of myself in order to be of any real assistance to him (my husband).

It is hard to be a caregiver. . .

…and all too often, no one knows what you’re going through emotionally or physically – others may want to help but don’t know how, don’t have time, or just don’t see what you need or how to be of assistance.

Here’s three things you can do to make your needs known:

  • Tell the supportive people in your life what would be helpful – and be specific!
  • Realize that even when you ask for help, it may not come when or how you need it!
  • Find your sense of “enough” – that balance point that assures you that you’ve given your best, without depleting yourself beyond healthy limits – that sacrifice is just too great!

I coach caregivers all the time and, if you’re struggling to find that balance of giving and getting in the daily effort you put forward in the care of someone else, it is time to get some help! Change is possible. Joy is available. The future does not need to feel bleak or discouraging. I can help!

One quick request. . . I’d like to DOUBLE my mailing list in the next two months!!

Surely you know someone who could benefit from this weekly email, Simple Self-Care Strategies. Please, send them to my website: and encourage them to SUBSCRIBE to my weekly blog, it will help us both! 

1 thought on “Sometimes, it is just exhausting. . .”

  1. Hi Paula:

    What truly valuable insight for so many groups of people. I resonated with the struggles of hyper-awareness in my life especially throughout the last couple of years. It is daunting and exhausting to constantly worry. I love your tips on self-care, and your point that we must meet our challenges as they present themselves–knowing you are going to be okay and your loved one will be okay. That’s yoga right there.

    Staying present is such a struggle for me. I laughed when you mentioned you were once waiting for the other shoe to drop when there were no shoes to begin with. *I feel seen with this post.* Lol.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

Recent Posts

The words Make Plan playfully spelled out on a table

Life as a Contingency Plan – Scary! (and exhausting!)

I considered writing about Halloween given that tonight the ghosts & goblins will knock on our doors looking for the best in sweets and treats. But we really don’t celebrate this holiday at our house – so many strangers, persistently knocking on the door, simply upsets my husband too much (Alzheimer’s).

Read More →
Circle of fruits and other sacred natural objects

Unpacking My White Privilege. . .

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been engaged in an online course of sorts about the nature of White privilege. It is called a White Affinity Circle and it is a “virtual circle” conversation among a group (I think there’s about 8 of us) White women with a professor leading the discussion.

Read More →
Narrow canyon and its curves

Navigating the Narrow Place

Recently, I had a rich conversation with a friend and colleague in which we discussed the structure of the religious calendar – in particular, the Jewish year. Rosh Hashanah the holiday that proclaims the new year, which ran from sundown on September 25th through nightfall September 27this an extremely important holiday for Jewish people, a time to both reflect and rejoice.

Read More →
How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.

How Can I Help You?

Through Co-Create 4 Life, you will learn a range of well-being strategies from skillfully implementing self-care to holistic approaches to well-being, rebuilding resilience, and battling burnout. Book a free consultation call today to discuss your options.