Episode 83: Finding Your Caregiver Self-care Style: Part Two
Do you stop yourself from doing things that would make you happy or give you a break from caregiving because it makes you feel guilty to even think about it? Does it feel selfish to want or to do something for yourself because you aren’t the one that is sick? Do you reconsider taking a break because you worry that if someone finds out they will judge you?
Let’s talk about why it’s in your loved one’s best interest for you to care for yourself.
Guilt and shame are a couple of the main reasons caregivers tell me they don’t even consider doing things for themselves. So let’s break this down.
Last week I explained what self-care really is. Don’t forget to go back to listen to that if you haven’t already…
Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness. Last week I spoke about the misconceptions people have when it comes to self-care and explained that it isn’t elaborate vacations and expensive spa days. It is simply finding ways to fit moments of care into your day so you can reduce stress and protect yourself from stress-related illness while finding happiness even if only a minute at a time.
Self-care is all based on what is relaxing and fun for you and can be a simple as taking a step outside or simply stopping and doing nothing for a minute like I suggested last week. Today let’s focus on why caring for yourself is important for the person you care for.
Making the case
You know what it feels like to be overwhelmed with caregiving and you know how awful you feel when you are under a lot of stress. We all react to this differently but in general, it doesn’t feel good, and the way your body reacts to stress affects everyone around you. You may find yourself exhausted, unable to think clearly, crying a lot, irritated, easy to react in anger, and have no motivation to do things. You can feel depressed, suffer from anxiety and overwhelming worry because of it.
You feel like crap.
I know that when I feel like this I can be a difficult person to be around and it’s hard for me to enjoy the people I’m with. I also find it hard to make decisions or remember what I needed to do next, and all I want to do is sleep. I know that when I find myself feeling this way it’s a sign that I need to take a step back and figure out what is going on.
There is no reason for you to feel like you are suffering because of caregiving. It is hard to make the sacrifices that you have to make to care for your loved one. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to enjoy your life.
If you can address the caregiver burnout, begin to take some time for yourself, and celebrate the people you live with, everyone wins.
When you are under less stress and feel more content with your life it will reflect in the way you live throughout the day. The way you connect with the person you love changes. You have the energy to care more. It might be easier to make time to enjoy them more. The way you care for them probably becomes a little gentler because you probably aren’t as irritated when you do those tasks.
If you’re able to find a way to reduce your stress by practicing self-care daily you’ll have a clearer mind when you walk into doctor’s offices with your loved one. You’ll be better able to ask questions and problem solve.
Caring for yourself begins to free you up to actually notice the moments when your loved one needs a hug, when they have the energy to play and joke around and when something has changed that might be a cause for concern.
Self-care presents the opportunity for you to feel better about caregiving and put more positive energy into the things you do. It also gives you the energy to set boundaries in your life and ask for help.
Last week I explained how self-care can help you. This week I’m saying that in helping yourself stay healthy and handle stress in your life you positively affect your loved one’s life as well.
Self-care allows you to be a better caregiver.
Let’s look at two more types of self-care to choose from. What you are looking for is one thing you can do and will continue to do. If you find more than one thing that interests you, that’s awesome! Write them down and you can add on the second one after you’ve made the first one a habit.
Don’t jump in and try to do everything I mention all at the same time. Try each one of them out a couple of times and then pick the one you’d like to work on first. If you try to make a lot of different changes in your life all at once you’ll end up overwhelming and that is the opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Let’s get to the next two self-care tools.
Self-care tool #3 - Make a connection. Connecting with people other than the ones you live with is a good way to care for yourself. There is one thing I want you to keep in mind… making connections can’t make you feel depleted after you’re done. Meaning, whatever you do can not make you feel like life has been sucked out of you or that it made you feel worse off than before you started. We all know people or situations that do that for us. That is the opposite of what we are trying to do and intentionally choosing to do something that makes you feel like crap when you’re done is the opposite of protecting your well-being and happiness.
Talking to a friend
Making a connection could be talking to a friend. I know that sometimes that can be difficult to do as a caregiver because it can feel like no one would really understand what you are going through. However, you have some options.
- You can meet up with a friend and talk about everything but caregiving. Taking a break from what you have to deal with all the time might be a way to relax. You could meet up and ask them if they’d be willing to just let you vent about some things and let them know you aren’t looking for them to help fix anything.
- You can also ask them to listen to what’s bothering you to get their advice. Keeping a friendship alive when you are a caregiver can be difficult it you don’t look at it as a relationship. Your friend needs to know that you will be open to listening to their problems as well. Framing the conversation and asking them if they are willing to listen and or help will give them the opportunity to say yes or no. It won’t make them feel like you are dumping your issues on them but are asking them to take an active role in helping you. If they are having a bad day they might say no, be prepared for that. As bad as it might feel it’s probably better than trying to talk to someone about something you are upset about and get an emotional or frustrated reaction from them.
Maybe a friend isn’t the answer right now. Community is anything that puts you together with other people. So maybe that is a support group. There are a lot of groups available for caregivers. In episode 36 I spoke with a representative from a group created just for male caregivers. Maybe it’s time to set yourself up with a caregiver mentor. They exist to help you through the stage of caregiving you are in and are almost always a caregiver who went through what you are going through so they speak from experience. Different organizations have mentorship programs. I spoke with someone from Imerman Angels in episode 34 and they provide this service for free to cancer patients, survivors, and their caregivers.
It’s possible there is a community group you would be interested in joining. Something that does not deal with caregiving. For example, if you like gardening there could be a gardening group in your area. Maybe a book club is your style, I’ve seen a lot of them that meet exclusively online now.
Finding a group to meet with might be a monthly thing for you to do and wouldn’t fit into finding something you can do every day. That’s perfect because you probably don’t feel like you have the time to meet a group daily anyway. Check to see if the support group has a FB group page or a group text or email list. That can be a great way for you to stay connected. Maybe you don’t meet with a friend or get to talk to them every day but you text each other several times a week to check-in. Having a couple of people you can connect with electronically gives you all a chance to reply back when you have the time and you won’t feel the pressure of getting on a conversation all the time. However, the conversation is more powerful especially if it can be done in person.
I completely understand how this can feel like more work. I can assure you that the benefit is just as big as the effort. Give it a try. Take a minute to think of who you could talk to and make a mental note to set something up with a friend or family member or to look for a group you’d be interested in. Like I always say, it might be the thing for you but you won’t know until you’ve tried. If you need help finding a support group just send me an email and we can problem-solve together.
Self-care tool #4: Touch
Using touch as a self-care tool is all about finding something that comforts you.
Let’s face it, it’s really hard to snuggle up with a soft blanket and think about how comfy it is and be angry at the same time. Those are two opposite emotions. So the focus here would be to introduce the sense of touch into your day in a way that brings calm. Now, if you are on my newsletter list you know that I am a fuzzy sock type of person. When I want to feel relaxed I reach for something soft. It can be socks or a sweater or even a blanket. When I use or cover myself with it I automatically feel more relaxed. I’ve made this such a big part of how I seek comfort that it’s an automatic reaction. So if I am having a stressful day at home I can assure you I am wearing the most comfortable clothing I have. The goal here would be for you to figure out if there is something soft or comfortable for you that would give your body and mind the cue that you can relax.
If you aren’t a fuzzy sock type of person maybe there is something you can still do with your hands that can create the same kind of calm. This calm would come from the connection your brain makes with what you are doing with your hands because you have to focus on that one thing you are doing. That could be coloring or drawing, playing a game, knitting, woodworking, writing and journaling, rubbing cream on your hands and body. Think of something you can do with your hands that is relaxing for you.
Remember it needs to be something that you enjoy doing and will do consistently.
You now have four different ways to care for yourself to consider. Last week I went over why self-care is a requirement for you and shared two simple options to try on and see if they fit into your day. This week was all about how caring for yourself is beneficial for the person you care for along with two more options for you to try.
I know it can be frustrating to know that you need to make some changes and not know what those changes should be. I have felt the frustration and anger you feel when someone tells you that you need to care for yourself but not invite you to learn how or what to do.
I’ve been a caregiver for over 8 years and I’ve been in that place where you just feel stuck, and sad, and lonely and this episode… well, this entire podcast is my way of saying that isn’t the way it always has to be. There are ways to find happiness and enjoy your life while you are a caregiver. I’m trying to show you it is possible to enjoy your life with the person you care for. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be difficult. I’m not saying that if you start caring for yourself it will take away all the hardship caregiving brings.
Caring for yourself allows you to actually live your life in spite of the hardship. To cultivate resilience that will allow you to recuperate from highly stressful moments and periods of your life quicker.
None of these tools require you to do much at all other than make yourself a priority. We will tackle that and the last two self-care tools for you to try. In the meantime, try out the first four I’ve laid out for you. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email me or find me in my FB group.
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