When I talk about self-care with fellow caregivers, responses can be worrying.
Although the conversation doesn’t always steer in this direction, it happens enough to make something very clear:
A lot of caregivers struggle to take care of themselves.
Too many caregivers neglect their self-care
When I suggest that self-care should be a priority, caregivers will dig in their heels, run away, or hang their heads and admit they don't take care of themselves.
Self-care can even become an off-limits subject, met with annoyance and impatience:
"I don't have time to take care of myself! I'm too busy taking care of someone else! Especially now in a pandemic!"
Believe me, I understand this mentality all too well. I've also been guilty of neglecting my own needs. Yet, I've learned my lesson firsthand. By putting my own needs on the backburner, I left myself open to serious threats to my health and well-being.
So, as caregivers, I want you to consider these simple habits before you brush off the idea of self-care. Trust me, following these three "golden rules" will make a huge difference in your life and the life of those you care for.
Get your priorities straight
We’re allowed to focus on our own needs. Being emotionally, physically, and spiritually bankrupt doesn’t help anybody or anything.
How could it? Caregiving is not a sprint. It’s the marathon of our lifetime. If we run on fumes, we crash and burn. We must take the time to replenish and nurture our bodies and minds.
We, as caregivers, are also entitled to be whole and healthy.
The only way to do this is to make practical decisions and make our well-being a priority. Looking in the mirror and asking what we need to make us feel healthier and happier is an act of survival and grace. It empowers us to be ready for anything.
Drop the excuses for lack of self-care
I mean absolutely no disrespect, and I apologize for the "tough-love" vibe, but... here goes: As caregivers, we need to stop making excuses about finding time to take care of ourselves.
The excuse I hear most often is that we have "no time for ourselves" because our loved ones need and deserve all our attention.
True, there's always an overwhelming number of things to do. Yet, think about it – if your loved one had an accident and needed an emergency doctor's visit. Would you be able to find the time in your already impossibly busy schedule?
Of course! So, if you can pull time and energy out of the air for them, you can find that same time for yourself.
Saying we cannot find time for ourselves is an excuse – especially when we can find the time for someone else.
Frame it this way: if we do not find time for ourselves and get sick and burnt out, who will take care of our loved ones?
Finding all that time and energy for someone else is a caregiver's magic trick. If we can do it for our loved ones, we can do it for ourselves.
Praise yourself instead of criticizing yourself
Caregiving is not about success or failure.
Yet, somehow, we consider reliance on others, physical boundaries, and understandable emotional breaking-points as "weaknesses".
Who made up these rules? When did caregiving become a contest or an end-goal?
Self-criticism is the enemy. Telling ourselves that vulnerability or asking for help makes us "bad caregivers" is destructive and untrue.
There are no rules, and there isn’t a “perfect” way to be a caregiver.
Just by showing up, we are entitled to a victory lap! So, instead of being hard on ourselves, we need to be celebrating.
It was only through self-awareness and lots of practice that I could treat myself with the respect and care I deserved. When I began to be as kind to myself as I am to my loved ones, I became a better caregiver. I didn’t burn out as fast, I was calmer, and I stopped second-guessing myself.
Prioritizing self-care didn't change the commitment I'd made to my loved ones.
Actually, by looking after my well-being, I'm in better shape to enrich the lives of those I care for.
Let's stop hanging our heads in shame when people ask about us and our self-care. Instead, let's lift ourselves up and be proud to invest time and energy into being healthier and happier.
After all, when we honor ourselves, we also honor those who depend on us.
NPS-ALL-NP-00366 JUNE 2021