Living with a cancer afflicted parent — A Series — Part 17

When autopilot mode leads to burnout

Image credit — Google images

In my previous, I wrote about the necessity and importance of switching to an autopilot mode, when handling a personal crisis like a cancer patient in the family. However, as I was writing that post (in that autopilot state), I could feel fatigue crawling inside me, pushing me to sleep. I thought of mentioning the bit about tiredness in that post, talking about how autopilot mode will eventually cause massive burnout. So much so, that you’ll lose direction, forget small stuff, lose your train of thought, and even sweat even the tiniest of stuff.

But I saved that for this post. Because, I just don’t want to talk about it, I want to offer a few ways to get over it as well.

Autopilot mode is like stress cleaning. You clean, wash, dust, sweep, polish and shine each and every nook of your space, at a time when you are under severe stress. Cleaning clutter on floor is like cleaning clutter of your mind. You tidy your brain’s stress knots as you tidy your bed. It is deeply relaxing. Therapeutic even. But like any physical activity, stress cleaning drains you. Leaving you with less energy to deal with the actual work that was causing you to stress clean in the first place!

So, when the situation is even more precarious than work or relationship related stress, one which demands 24×7 physical and mental alertness, the autopilot mode starts pulsing out your energy. It makes you irritated, often grumpy, opening a window to the much dready negativity, that threatens to cloud all your mental capacity to take cate of an ill parent.

In the past two weeks since Dad has been home, I’ve had bouts of such a burnout. And at the same time, I’ve discovered small solutions to escape that:

  1. Sleep : As obvious as that sounds, getting as much sleep whenever you can, will enable you to stay mentally alert. I have been on limited sleep and it changed my behaviour, and denegrated my mood so often. Last night, I told my Mum I really need a six hour sleep straight, and slept immediately after putting Dad to bed. I woke up fresh, and managed to keep my mind, mood, and anxiety in a positive frame, on a day that included a hospital visit, discussion with oncologists, and research on immunotherapy. Along with looking after Dad.
  2. Talk the stress out : Massive burnout is also because of stress building and it having no release vent. So one way of letting it go is to speak to someone and cry your heart out. Could be a friend, sibling, relative or neighbour. Anybody you trust. It lightens the mind and the heart.
  3. Acknowledge yourself that you’re doing the best you can : Often in times of crisis, there’s a constant blame game taking place in the house. The nagging sense of worry that are we doing enough, leads to pointing out each other’s mistakes, that you’re not doing enough to take care of Dad. The need to do more is as present as the acknowledgement of doing enough is absent. Often one person gets all the credit, while other members get neglected. One way to end it is tell yourself, you’re doing as much as possible, and you’ll try to keep up. That constant self reflection is a must to avoid that burnout.
  4. Forgive yourself for making mistakes : You’re erring because you’re trying to make things better, for your parent. You are bound to fall behind on waking up on time everyday, or forgetting to clean the trash out. And these are signs for you to catch a quick break. Eat a fruit, fall flat on the bed and text your friend, listen to a song, go on the roof and feel the wind, gaze at the afternoon sky, make green tea and finish one chapter of that book.

So letting go and moving on towards another day, is the most positive feature you can derive from this turmoil. Think less and finish the tasks, your mind will quietly adjust to the buzz.


Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on http://mariyamrazahaider.com.

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

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