Episode 86: Step by Step Guide to Making Self-Care Possible for Caregivers.

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Show Notes

This is the last episode of the Caregiver self-care series. Today I’m going to show you how to put everything together so you can start taking moments to care for yourself throughout the day.

Let’s talk about bringing one self-care tool into your day.

Over the past month, I’ve shared with you the reasons why you might not think you can bring self-care into your days so you can be better able to care for the person you are a caregiver for. If you haven’t listened to the past four episodes I suggest you go back to them after you’ve listened to this one.

To summarize… It is difficult for you to make yourself a priority to care for yourself and that comes from a lot of different reasons. You feel like you can’t take time for yourself because you’ll be judged or you’ll judge yourself for it. There isn’t time in the day for self-care. Or you can’t afford self-care because you think it costs money.

I’ve given you six different types of self-care tools that don’t cost money and take as little or as much time as you’d like for them too. In one of the episodes, I even lead you through an extremely short breathing exercise to teach you the first step to learning how to use your breath to reduce stress.

Last week I stressed that a lot of not being able to prioritize yourself is not your fault. If you had more support from your social circles and society in general it would be easier for you to take time for yourself. People would expect you to care for yourself so you could continue doing the important work you’re doing right now.

So the last thing we need to work on together is figuring out how to fit one new thing into your day. How to get yourself to take at least five minutes for yourself every day.

I can tell you for certain that when you are finally able to be consistent and show up for yourself. Life changes!

If you’ve listened to the earlier episodes of this podcast you know that when I became a caregiver it was rough for me. I was reactive. I cried a lot and didn’t have a handle on the way my life was turned upside down. I was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety but at the same time was working as a Yoga and meditation teacher. It was ironic that my doctor had to suggest that I try meditating for me to realize that my training was what would help me out of the overwhelm and burnout I was experiencing. I was able to take all of my yoga and meditation training and bring self-care back into my day so I could go back to being able to enjoy my life with my husband and daughter even though caregiving was extremely difficult for me.

If I hadn’t already had all of that training I don’t know where I would be right now. I certainly didn’t have anyone warn me not to lose myself in caregiving or that if I didn’t care for myself I would become bitter and resentful, depressed and overwhelmed. It was simply a small suggestion from a doctor that made me realize that I already had what I needed but caregiving had been thrown on me with such a force that all I could do was fight to keep up. I didn’t have the energy or the willpower, in the beginning, to figure out how to care for myself with tools I already had and I didn’t have a connection with other caregivers who could let me know I wasn’t alone in all the things I was experiencing. That’s actually why this podcast exists. It’s my way of helping you know you aren’t alone and to hopefully help you find ways to enjoy your life as a caregiver easier than I did.

It makes sense why it’s difficult for you to figure out how to do something for yourself. Caregiving is rough and most times you're just trying to keep up with things. Caregiving can also be long-term and you won’t be able to sustain the pace you are at if you don’t start caring for yourself.

What a lot of us need is for someone to help us figure out how to make ourselves a priority again. If you are burnout right now you might not be able to think of what or how to do something for yourself. As I said in last week’s episode - shame on the people who tell you that you need to care for yourself and then don’t take the time to help you do that. Having someone come sit in your house to make sure things are ok while you go for a walk or a drive is a way a friend or family member can help. They can help you escape by inviting you to do something that takes as much or as little energy as you’d like to use. Maybe a quick hike or just a drive to pick something up to eat. Maybe someone can sit with a spouse during chemo treatments or play a game with your child so you can take a much-needed nap.

So now that we know there are ways to care for yourself, and there are things that you can ask people to do to support you caring for yourself let me take you through the process I use with my clients in helping them figure out how and what to do for self-care.

Step into my office...

First of all, you have to start with just one thing. So you’ll need to pick something from one of the six categories I went over in the first three episodes of this series. They were:

Stop - Finding a way to be still. Do absolutely nothing for a few minutes and take a moment to just be.

Get Out - Getting yourself out of the house. From just sticking your head out of the window of your house or apartment, taking one step out of the front door to taking a walk or a drive somewhere. 

Connect - Finding a way to connect with a friend or family member, go to a support group meeting, find a caregiver mentor, or do anything you would like to do that involves you interacting with a person you don’t live with.

Touch - Anything you can do with your hands. From just snuggling up with something soft and cozy to creating something with your hands or journaling. Anything that you can use your sense of touch to do. 

Thought - Would include meditation, prayer, mantras, manifestation, reading anything that allows you to escape into your thoughts.

Breath - can be simply breathing or it can be other things like breath work, singing, or humming.

I have my clients sit with this list and think about the ones that interest them and then we dive a little deeper into the one category to see if there is something they would really like to do and know that they will do. Wanting to and actually doing something are two different things. So you have to pick something you will actually do and will be enjoyable for you. This first thing has to be easy for you. We need to eliminate as many roadblocks as we can before even starting. 

So you pick that one thing. It’s something that is accessible for you. You know you should be able to do it every day and you write it down. So let’s say you pick enjoying a cup of coffee during the day. You know this isn’t the cup that you drink quickly in the morning or the one you continually warm up in the microwave because you don’t get to drink it before it gets cold. You like coffee. You know how to make coffee and it’s something you always have in your house.

The next step would be how can we make this coffee part of your self-care? How do we make this just a little more than just drinking a cup of coffee and turning it into a short break for you? I would have you change how you approach this cup of coffee. Instead of just drinking a cup of coffee I would have you notice the smell of it as it brews. Notice the sounds as you pour it into a cup and stir in the sugar and cream. Then you would take the coffee to a quiet place. Maybe it’s the kitchen table, maybe sitting on the stairs or the sofa. A place that you most likely won’t be disturbed. Then when you sit down with the coffee you just really try to focus on the experience. The feeling and texture of the mug. Notice the color of the mug and how it feels in your hands. Notice how the warmth of it feels. See the steam coming from it and the color of the coffee. How are your taste buds reacting? How is your body reacting to the promise of a sip of coffee? Then before taking a sip take three nice deep breaths in so you can truly enjoy the scent of the drink you’re holding. Then you take a sip. Just a sip and really taste the coffee. You focus on just this… not the things you really have to do, not worry about all the things you have to worry about because - these next 3,15, 20 minutes are just for you. Almost anything that can happen in three minutes can wait for a short period of time. You have to let go of it all and focus just on that cup of coffee.

After the first sip, you continue drinking and enjoying the coffee. You don’t bring anything with you by the way. It’s just you and that cup. So, no list-making or social media surfing. It’s just you and that cup of coffee. You continue to enjoy just that cup of coffee for as long as you can and then… when you’re done you don’t just get up and walk away. You take one second to bring in a deep breath say to yourself something that lets you know it’s time to move on like - on to the next thing. Or, you got this. And then you move on.

This can easily be three minutes of your time. Sitting with just a cup of coffee. And it doesn’t have to be coffee. It can be a piece of chocolate, a meal, spending time with a pet, or just breathing. The focus is on just that one thing because it lets your brain take a break. It helps you reset and can bring you a sense of calm when you most need it.

So now that we have identified the one thing you’ll do and how you’ll do it we have to find a time you will commit to it. It has to be a time when you know there is a 75% chance you will be able to do it. When during your day can you do this one thing? When can you sit down to enjoy this cup of coffee? So whatever it is you choose the next step is to figure out when in your day you will do it. It’s important to start out with something you will and can do every day. The first step towards making yourself a priority and being ok with caring for yourself needs to be something you will be able to do every day. Of course, it’s good to have things you might only do on the weekend or monthly but first, that doesn’t help you with your day-to-day stress, and second if you don’t make it work once it’s very easy to give it up altogether.

So once you find the one thing you will do for yourself, identify what and how you will do it and then when you will do it each day. Find that window of time that’s open for you.

After that, you have to plan. Set things up so there is no excuse not to try. Staying with the coffee example I would have you make sure you have coffee. Choose the cup that you would want to use and set it aside. The cup doesn’t matter but having the cup ready for you does.

You have to ask yourself what will get in the way of you doing this one thing. Are you trying to set this up at a time of the day that the person you care for will need you or are you doing it when they usually take a nap? Figure out what will get in the way and then see how you can get around that.

Then the next part is important. You have to set boundaries and it can be difficult to do when the boundaries are for you. So let’s say you care for your husband and you have decided that every afternoon at three pm you’re going to enjoy a cup of coffee. It’s a time when nothing is really happening in the house and your husband is usually doing something on his own. You have to make this time for yourself a priority. Maybe your husband will ask for some coffee if he can smell it. That’s not a problem just make extra and serve him some and then go and enjoy your coffee on your own. If he asks why you’re making coffee or why you are going somewhere else to drink it you can just explain to him that you’re trying something new. Everyone has their special relationships with the people they care for so what needs to happen is for you to already know that you aren’t going to be made to feel like what you’re trying to do is stupid or selfish. You have to tell yourself that you won’t allow anyone to shame you for trying to take a moment out of the day for yourself. 

It’s a little bit easier for me to go through this with a person one on one because they can explain what the other person’s reaction might be. You will have to go with what you think they will react to. However, it’s very possible they won’t even notice you’re gone. You’ll have to choose if you’re going to talk to them about it. It would be a great conversation to have with your loved one. Letting them know why and how you plan on caring for yourself a little bit more and assuring them it’s because you want to be a better caregiver for them.

People don’t like change and it’s vulnerable to try to make changes. So this can be a non-event or a bigger conversation that you need to have.

The most important thing for you to know is - yes it’s just a cup of coffee or just a walk but it’s also more than that. It’s time you need to take it for yourself and if it is just a cup of coffee then it shouldn’t be a big deal to do it. 

Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing something for yourself. This will be easier for some people than others. That’s why it might help to have a partner in crime. Your hype girl. Your backup singer. However, you want to think of it. The person you can talk this over with. The one that can be there and not let you talk yourself out of enjoying that cup of coffee. The person that genuinely will say - you’re full of crap you need to just do this when you try to make excuses. Your support person. If you don’t have a support person, send me an email and I help you talk through these things so you know what to do when you want to back out.

Because that cup of coffee, that is just a cup of coffee, is starting to feel like more isn’t it. And what happens is when that time gets hijacked you can get very emotional about it and give up altogether. So let’s try to keep it important enough to want to do but not what could turn into the last straw. We are all holding on to a lot of frustration. It’s completely understandable when your life has become nothing like you expected it to be. But setting up self-care is not a way to start a fight or air your frustrations. It isn’t a symbol of how things just never go right in your life or how you aren’t allowed to have happiness. Those are self-limiting beliefs that can be worked on once you start caring for yourself more. Or with a therapist.

So we’ve identified the one thing you want to do.

We have decided how you plan to do it.

You’ve found the best time during the day that you can try

We’ve identified what can get in the way of you being successful and how to get around those roadblocks before they even happen.

You’ve thought about the boundaries you need to set.

Found a person you can have hold accountable or you’ve reached out to me for support.

What happens next? You do it. You get to tomorrow afternoon and you have your coffee. You sit with it and you enjoy it and when you are done you end it by saying something like “on to the next thing” or You got this and — Important part here - you are going to take one quick second and see how you’re feeling. Then you go live the rest of the day.

If you are a list writer you might want to create a note in your phone or a notebook and just write the date, if you drank that coffee and how you felt after. At the end of the day, you’re going to check in before you go to sleep to see how the rest of your day went. You do the same thing if you miss that time for yourself.

That way you can see if this one thing is working for you. Or if you start to notice you are really missing it a lot then maybe it isn’t what you should be trying to focus on.

There’s nothing wrong with the first form of self-care that you pick to not be the right one for now. It might fit all the criteria except one and that one thing is what will make it difficult for you to do. 

If that’s the case you go back through the process again. The good thing is, each time you are reinforcing how important it is to prioritize your care.

Now there will be days that are difficult for you and you aren’t able to care for yourself the way you’ve been trying to. Or you feel like it just isn’t worth it to try to find joy in your day.

When this happens I want you to remember why you are a caregiver. Who is that person you give so much of your life to? Remember how much you love them. How badly you wish things would be different for both of you. Remember why you decided to care for them and know that this simple cup of coffee or a short walk or whatever it is you decided to try to do is not only important for you it’s important for them because doing this one thing is how you come back to loving your life a little bit more, become a better caregiver, find ways to enjoy that person you care for and find a little bit of joy in your life.

You can do this. You are worth it!