Episode 85: Why It's So Hard To Care For Yourself
Ep 85 Why it’s so hard to care for yourself
The past few podcast episodes have been focused on helping you find your own style of self-care. In each episode, I also touched on reasons why self-care might not be for you or more importantly why you think self-care isn’t for you. Today I’d like to speak a little on why you caring for yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do as a caregiver.
Let’s talk about why it will always be difficult for you to care for yourself.
Caregivers are always told to care for themselves and it’s almost always annoying, isn’t it? It makes some people angry to be told they need to care for themselves and I get it.
The message isn’t the problem. It’s essential for caregivers to care for themselves. I strongly believe that. The problem comes from the half-ass way that message is used!
If someone you know mentions that you really need to take care of yourself it is most likely because they see you actually need it. Maybe they dropped by and noticed you look like you could use a year's worth of sleep or you haven’t washed your hair in a week or two. IF they tell you that you should really care for yourself they are stating the obvious, right?
Have you ever heard that you should take care of yourself and realize you never thought of it before? That this was a crazy new idea? Probably not.
Caregivers are humans and humans seek comfort and instinctually want to survive.
You know you want to feel better. You know that when you feel caregiving has become so overwhelming all you want to do is escape. Because caregiving is hard and deep down inside you know you are suffering and need help.
So if someone suggests some self-care (which I usually translate to “you look like shit and it makes me uncomfortable to see you this way so please fix yourself” ) then they are stating the obvious.
And the catchphrases are overused. The “can’t give from an empty cup” or “you have to put your mask on first” are getting a little annoying. But I get it.. I used to use those a lot and people are often looking for nice ways to say - hey you’re falling apart. They’re trying to make a point.
The messages are everywhere. On social media, you’re told you need to care for yourself and print ads want to sell you things they categorize as self-care. People in your life are telling you that you need to care for yourself and god forbid someone suggests it on a FB group post! There’s so much anger in our community when the conversation turns to self-care. In fact, I spent the whole first year on this podcast finding other ways to say self-care because I was scared I’d turn off the very people who need to hear this.
Is Not The Problem
But here’s the deal. I don’t think the problem is with the message. The problem is there isn’t any follow-through. Shame on the people around you that suggested you take a break when you were overwhelmed with caregiving and then not try to be part of the solution. Shame on them for not skipping over the phrase altogether and just reaching out and saying hey I’m going to drive up and you jump in, stay in your pajamas, and we’re going to drive through the coffee place you love and get you that drink you always get this time of the year and then I’ll take you right back if you want or we can sit in the parking lot and enjoy our drinks.
And please, if you have a friend like that send them the link to this episode so they can listen to it and understand what beautiful people they are to care enough to go the extra step. Because telling a person they need to care for themselves is not enough! All it does is say - hey I”m seeing what you’re feeling and it isn’t a pretty picture.
You Don’t Know What To Do
I get it… most people think they are doing the right thing by giving the advice you didn’t ask for.
But if you’re just told you need to make a change and there is no follow up then they might as well not have said it at all.
What you might not realize is - the underlying message you are given while being told something you already know is that… you should already know how to do it, and you don’t.
You don’t know what you would do if you wanted to take better care of yourself. You don’t know how you could make the time for it and you don’t know how you could afford it. Since your brain does not have the capacity to figure it out you say self-care isn’t for someone like you, it’s unacceptable for people to think you have the time or capacity to care for yourself and you give up before you try. Or you say you’ll look into it later. Circulating the reasons why you can’t care for yourself in your head makes the fact that you know you really need to a little easier to ignore and you begin to believe the story you tell yourself.
If you listened to the first episode of this series EP 82, you know that the definition of self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”. I explained in that episode that oftentimes a caregiver’s idea of what self-care is doesn’t work for them. They need to come to a different understanding of what self-care is so they can begin to see how it can fit into their daily lives.
When I work with caregivers the next thing they usually tell me is they wouldn’t know what to do even if they wanted to care for themselves. My answer to that is you have to find moments in your day when you can relax and let your nervous system know you are safe for the moment. In order to do that you have to find something you will actually do and we sit down and problem-solve together. You see you can write it in your todos, write it on a post-it, and stick it on your mirror but if it isn’t your style you aren’t going to do it and it’s just going to reinforce the fact that self-care is hard for you. It’s a process of trial and error and that is why there are six different styles of things for you to try to do within this series of podcast episodes. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries before you find something that you’ll do every day. That leads me to the next excuse to not work on caring for yourself. You don’t have the time.
When someone tells me they don’t have the time to fit self-care into their day there are a couple of things going on. The person doesn’t understand the real definition of self-care and they don’t realize how to address it in their own life. If they did they would know that self-care can take as little as a minute of their day.
The problem is most caregivers don’t feel they can make themselves a priority when at the same time the care they give to their loved one is non-negotiable.
Why You Are Not A Priority
Let’s say you weren’t a caregiver right now but you had an equally stressful high-paying job that everyone in your society thought was important. You would actually be given time to take off for vacation and for being sick. No one would think twice if you took a day off or took a little bit of a longer lunch because of all the late days you just worked. It’s assumed that you’d take time for yourself.
However, as an unpaid family caregiver, you don’t get the same treatment, do you? You help keep a person alive. You work sometimes 24/7, depending on the amount of care your loved one needs. Most times, without a team of people you manage that helps offset all of the tasks needed to be done daily. Yet you are worried about what someone will think of you when you take a nap in the middle of the day or grab some coffee with a friend. A lot of your inability to care for yourself comes from the fact that the social circles you live in and society, in general, do not value what you do. Now I’ve talked about the value of caregiving and owning your role in other episodes. I’ll put the links to them in the show notes. Because what is important is the very real fact that your self-care is not supported by the outside world. Your family and friends might tell you how important it is but don’t support you to take a time out by coming to sit with your spouse or play with your child so you can take a nap. When you even think of asking them to help you take a break you probably feel guilty or fear being judged because you don’t feel you have the right to take that time away from caregiving.
So if your society and your circle of family and friends don’t support you in caring for yourself of course you aren’t going to make it a priority.
So what now?
You can continue with the way things are now. You could continue to live with chronic stress and if you listened to last week’s episode you know that when you are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety that affects your ability to be a caregiver. Sure you can try going into a caregiving survival mode, and quite frankly we all have to do that at some point, but most of us know we can’t stay there for long.
What happens when you don’t care for yourself? You begin to hate what you do. There are tons of other things that will happen and that you will feel but the one thing I want you to really hear is …
You will hate being a caregiver.
We all have moments when we wish we didn’t have to be a caregiver, are frustrated with caregiving and feel angry about living a life we never thought we’d have to live, and that can happen on a good day! That isn’t the same as completely hating caregiving. You don’t have to hate your caregiving life. It isn’t a requirement for caregiving to hate your life while you do it. It might feel that it’s all you’ve known and if that’s the case then things need to start to change. Don’t tell me it’s too late… it isn’t. All you need to do is decide that it’s time and that you are worth it. There is always time to begin to change your course.
Change Is Possible
Now if hating caregiving isn’t something you want to do or maybe you already do and you hate it there. You know you need to make some changes in your life because you want to find joy in your life again and you really love the person you care for and want to really be there with them. You want to enjoy your life with the person you have sacrificed so much of your own life to care for.
Let me assure you that it is possible for you to begin to bring self-care into your day. If you can begin to realize how important you are to the person you care for and understand that you have to make yourself a priority, it is possible to care for yourself more. If you can stop waiting for people to give you permission to take breaks and care for yourself and set your own self-care boundaries and advocate for yourself you can make self-care a part of your life. It can’t happen in one day. You have to do it one step at a time and next week I’ll help you with figuring out how to start taking those steps.
If you don’t want to do this on your own. If you don’t have the energy to do it or you just need someone to be there to help keep you accountable please reach out to me and we can talk. My coaching program is all about helping you find ways to love your life as a caregiver. The link for coaching information a free PDF download as well as links for everything mentioned in this episode can be found in the show notes for this episode at www.loveyourcaregivinglife.com
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Top 5 Tools Every Spousal Caregiver Needs Now - PDF Download
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