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Do You Care So Much That it Hurts?

health & vitality leadership & impact love & relationships mind & meaning May 31, 2019

Think about a recent time when you cared for someone in your life. Maybe you called a sick relative, visited a friend who is going through a difficult time, or held the door for a complete stranger. How did that make you feel?

Chances are that the act of caring for someone made you feel good. When you care for others, your heart releases feel-good hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, which relieve stress and create the feeling of happiness. But, is it possible to care too much about the people and things in your life?

Research shows that there is a difference between balanced care and “overcare”. 

Overcare refers to that state when we occasionally “go overboard” and become over-attached to what we care about. When this happens, we may feel drained and experience negative emotions such as worry, anger, fear, disappointment, jealousy, depression, guilt, or stress. Have you ever cared about someone or something so much that it did not feel good anymore?

The real problem is not that we care too much, but rather that we do not know how to properly manage our care. We typically start out with an authentic and balanced intention to care, but it translates into over-attachment and results in overcare. This is because most of us have been “trained” to care. We somehow believe that if we’re not worrying or obsessing over things or people, it must mean that we do not care enough. For example, a romantic partner may equate love with constantly being concerned and worried about his/her significant other, which can make that person feel suffocated and lead them to end the relationship.

This need to worry or obsess is typically an unconscious emotional habit that operates under the disguise of attention, sympathy and empathy. When our care goes too far, we can experience a burdensome feeling of responsibility accompanied by negative emotions and poor results.

I recently experienced this burdensome feeling toward to my mom. My father passed away about six months ago, and I have been worrying about the fact that my mom is not yet ready to actively do things that bring her joy (like participating in activities/hobbies outside of the home). As I was researching the topic of overcare for this article, I realized that I cared so much about my mother that my concern had become mentally and emotionally draining. In fact, my worry had actually limited my ability to give my mother true or balanced care. When I realized that I had become over-attached, I became aware that the real “problem” was my own expectations about what she should do. I immediately let go of those expectations and released that worry.


Why Should You Care About Overcare?

Once a person becomes conscious that their energy is drained from overcare, it can be easy to start blaming or resenting the people or issues they care about, which can create negative results.

For example, a client of mine, who is a CFO at a non-profit organization, became over-attached to helping people at work. She had a difficult time saying “no” to her colleagues, which led to her to work excessively long hours. She hired me to help her release those old emotional patterns that were draining her energy and impacting her ability to enjoy a better work-life balance (e.g., exercising and spending time with her family). After she shifted back into true care for herself and others, she was able to set and honor boundaries that allowed her to give care without sabotaging her own well-being.

Another reason you should avoid overcare is that it can be harmful to your health. According to the HeartMath Institute, a variety of health problems arise when we allow our care to become draining, including a lowered immune response and imbalanced hormone levels.


Care vs. Overcare

When we learn to distinguish between care and overcare, we’re empowered to stop taking our care to extremes. Becoming conscious of your habitual thoughts (mindset) and feelings will give you a new sense of freedom. So, how can you do that?

Overcare can sometimes be tricky to recognize because it stems from care. True or balanced care always feels good- it leads to regenerative feelings such as joy and ease. On the other hand, overcare involves a heavy, stressful feeling. It literally hurts to care.

Doc Childre, Founder of the HeartMath Institute, recommends that you ask yourself the following question to discover whether you’ve become too entangled with someone or something in your life:

“Is what I am caring about adding quality to my life or is it adding stress?”

You can also take a few moments to make a list of the people and things in your life that you overcare about. Ask yourself these questions:
• What causes me worry and anxiety?
• What am I over-attached to or over-identified with?

When your caring intentions are draining your energy and do not affect the recipient(s) in an uplifting way, there’s a good chance that you’re in overcare.


What Can You Do?

There are a number of tools from the HeartMath Institute that are designed to help ease out the emotional drain that results from overcare. One of those techniques is called Quick Coherence and it will allow you to replace the overcare with a positive emotion so that you can gain a more balanced perspective on the situation.

When you recognize the overcare and the negative emotion or attitude that you wish to change (e.g., guilt, anger, anxiety, self-judgment, etc.), follow these two simple steps:

Step 1: Focus your attention in the area of the heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual.
Suggestion: Inhale 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds (or whatever rhythm is comfortable)

Step 2: Make a sincere attempt to experience a regenerative feeling such as appreciation or care for someone or something in your life.
Suggestion: Try to re-experience the feeling you have for someone you love, a pet, a special place, an accomplishment, etc. or focus on a feeling of calm or ease.

If the old perceptions or attitudes try to come back, simply repeat this process to re-anchor your commitment to the new feeling. Practicing this technique is proven to help you save energy, get back to a more balanced state of care, and create even better relationships.

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