Apply the Oxygen Mask

Apply Oxygen Mask

by Michael Bloom~There are several different types of family caregivers: people caring for life partners/spouses who become ill or disabled, parents caring for children with disabilities, adult children caring for aging parents, family members caring for an injured veteran who returns from war, or to a loved one who suffers a traumatic brain injury after a car/industrial accident or is the victim of gun violence. Many caregivers even perform more than one caregiving role such as providing care to an elderly parent with dementia and to a child with a disability – also referred to as a sandwich generation caregiver. Due to their dedication, limiting beliefs, and desire to do it all, many caregivers are at great risk for burnout and personal health decline that puts their loved ones and themselves at great risk.

Almost every family caregiver throughout the world assumes her/his role accidentally and without pre-planning. The role emerges as a result of an unexpected family member health crisis that results in illness, injury, or disability. When duty calls, the caregiver jumps in to support the loved one in need without hesitation and puts other parts of their life on hold or on the back burner.

Once they have jumped into the pool of care, many caregivers feel as if they are swimming upstream to get all family tasks and needs met. Caregivers often put the needs of the loved ones receiving care ahead of their own desires and goals. They pass on job opportunities, decrease work hours, or even leave jobs, which can diminish their own financial security. They may stop focusing on personal health and wellness and gain or lose a significant amount of weight, which increases their risk for serious illness or disease. When they experience aches, pains, or other physical health concerns they may ignore them or delay having certain medical procedures or treatments completed. Ignoring personal diagnosis and treatment needs can lead to a future healthcare emergency and a caregiving crisis.

Because the caregiving road is filled with potholes of medical and financial setbacks, caregivers often live in a state of crisis and fear. The caregiver walks hand in hand with their loved one through doctor appointments, blood tests, medical scans, and associated therapies and treatment regimens. Although the patient is the one that directly experiences the physical and emotional pain through treatment, the caregiver cringes with every moan of their loved one and every troubling word of the doctor. They are left feeling sad and helpless much of the time.

As the disappointments and painful moments accumulate, the caregiver can become consumed with fear and believe they are living under a perpetual dark storm cloud. Although most caregivers perform heroically and show a positive face to support their friends and loved ones, they can break down physically and emotionally if they dwell too much on what they cannot control. This low energy can even carry over to ignoring or delaying the completion of what they can control – such as setting up appointments or activities that can be personally beneficial.

In addition, caregivers usually devote little or no time to having fun with friends or intimate partners. They can become bored and depressed with increasing isolation. They may give up personal hobbies and recreational activities that previously provided great fulfillment and joy. Stress and worry dominate thoughts throughout each day and the caregiver can even feel as though they are at the brink of collapse under the heavy burden of responsibilities. Basically, the life of a caregiver can sadly transform to one of all work, no play, and no joy.

The good news is that with a renewed commitment to self it is possible to recharge your caregiving energy now and save your own life in the process. Think about it this way. Before an airplane takes off, the flight attendant shares emergency instructions. One of the primary directions is that when the oxygen masks drop overhead, it is vital for parents to place them on themselves before applying to the children. Otherwise, they run the risk of passing out which could lead to death for both the parent and child. The same principle applies to effective caregiving. Apply the oxygen mask first to yourself and then apply it to your loved one.

One of the key ways that you can do this is to share with your primary care physician that you are in a caregiving role. During the years I served as a caregiver for my elder parents, I increased the number of times per year I visited my doctor from 1 to 3 times per year. By increasing my doctor visits, I was able to closely monitor my blood pressure and other health concerns as they arose. After all, keeping oneself as healthy as possible is vital to keeping the loved one(s) you care for as safe and well supported as possible. Unfortunately, most family caregivers ignore their own health needs and reduce the number of personal medical appointments during the caregiving journey.

Another key way to apply the oxygen mask to oneself is to regularly share your concerns and need for support with a trusted family member, friend, clergy member, life coach, or counselor. With a dedicated and loving champion in your corner, it is possible for the caregiver to breathe in the necessary oxygen of support to sustain their role during the transformational journey of caregiving. Connect with your champion today, fellow caregiver!


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About Michael Bloom

Since 2011, Certified Professional Coach and Caregiving Without Regret™ Expert A. Michael Bloom has helped to revitalize the careers of hundreds of family and professional caregivers with practical, tactical soul-saving coping strategies and support them in saving lives. With a wealth of practical expertise as both a family and professional caregiver, Michael serves as a welcome and sought-after catalyst to guide caregivers and health and human services leaders to stay energized and committed to work that has never been more important or vital than it is today. Great information and resources are available at

2 thoughts on “Apply the Oxygen Mask

  1. Paula Susan

    Your article comes before my next interview with a well-spouse, who has cared for her husband of over twenty years with MS. My interview with him will be the next edition of this blog. You are so correct. The well-spouse needs her/ his own nurturing and sound board. One cannot be such a martyr without an outlet for the understandable resentment and exhaustion their role engenders..

    Again, thank you.

    Paula Susan

    • Michael Bloom

      Hi Paula,

      Thanks so much for sharing your comments. Please send my best regards to the couple you mention. Sounds like the husband is blessed to have such a dedicated spouse to serve as his caregiver for over two decades. Amazing!

      Thank you,


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