Self care for caregivers: remember to take care of yourself
I love the attention self care is getting in social media. The #selfcare hashtag brings up over 11 million posts on Instagram. Anything that encourages taking care of yourself and makes it more socially acceptable to do so, is to be welcomed.
My concern is that there is a real risk of trivializing the tremendous importance, power and meaning of self-care. Trends come and go, and self-care is too important to be relegated to a passing trend.
What exactly is self care?
Self care is taking responsibility for meeting your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Being really clear that this is about needs can help move away any feelings of guilt or selfishness.
Because self care is also about responsibility, it means I can’t wait for others to notice what I need (ahem, a conversation that occurs between many couples). The word ‘responsibility’ also drives home the seriousness of self care.
A self care practice (as opposed to one-offs) is toughest for those who are caring for others. It is tough to get yourself on the agenda. It’s also tough to continue to keep yourself on the agenda when the needs of others are, or seem to be, especially high.
For many family caregivers, creating a routine of self care will be a radical act. It may also be (long) overdue.
Do you feel a ‘but’ coming?
There are a gazillion self care tips on social media. It is great to get kick-started or inspired with these tips.
Here is my BUT. Virtually all of my blogs have a ‘but’ or ‘however‘ in them! Creating a sustained self care practice requires stepping away from the external world and turning inward.
This just seems logical to me. The internet can’t tell me what I need. Self-awareness is the KEY.
I call the process of creating a self care practice T.A.P.
T.A.P. into self care
- TUNE in to your needs.
There are a different ways to connect with yourself. You can meditate. You can journal. You can listen to yourself as you talk to a friend.
You can get into the habit of asking yourself “What do I need now?” I really like this question because it pushes us to be concrete, tangible. It also moves us away from a self care routine that is oppressive and full of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’.
You can break it down further: What do I need emotionally right now? Mentally? Physically? Spiritually?
Really sit with these questions. Allow yourself to feel into them. Get out of your head and into your body and your heart. It’s ok if you feel awkward and unsure at first. It will definitely get easier!
Asking the question “What do I need now?” is also an effective way to bring you right into the present moment (hello, mindfulness). While I look forward to my scheduled walk with a friend at 4:00 p.m., for example, what I may need right now is a cup of tea and ten minutes to myself.
Now, to deepen this self-reflection, ask yourself if there is something or someone you need to say NO to. Self care is as much about what you don’t choose as it is about what you do choose.
Let me give just one example: “No, I won’t get off the couch and go make you a cup of tea. I really need to relax right now.”
We’ll let Socrates have the last word on this:
“My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves.”
- ACCEPT and acknowledge the importance of your needs
This can be hard if you are used to putting everyone else’s needs first. At its extreme, caregivers can become like martyrs, taking care of others at the expense of their own well-being.
There are many false beliefs when it comes to self care.
- It isn’t being selfish.
- It isn’t being self-absorbed.
- It isn’t self-comfort or escape.
- It isn’t being needy.
- It isn’t about finding It is about making time.
Ultimately, it is being human. You have needs just like everyone else. It really is that simple. Super-Capes are not required.
Have you heard about the oxygen mask analogy applied to caregiving? You need to put your oxygen mask on first before you help others. Some people will only take care of themselves because it means they will be better able to care for others. Whatever it takes!
Acceptance of needs goes with acknowledging their importance. This goes back to the definition of self care. If you don’t take responsibility for yourself, who will? Yup, that was rhetorical.
After you accept and acknowledge your needs, you may need to communicate this to others in your life. This will be particularly important if you have been a people-pleaser and have a history of denying your needs (how many times have you said ‘I’m fine…I don’t need anything?’)
Now that you accept and acknowledge your needs, you are ready to move to the obvious next step: create a self care plan.
- PUT a plan into play (who doesn’t love alliteration?)
Self care practices never just happen. They require a plan and a schedule. Even if you only have 10 minutes, mark this as ‘self care’ time.
While likely obvious, it bears stating that taking care of yourself is best if practiced on a daily basis. This is opposed to waiting for a crisis or breaking point.
I recommend making an action plan specifically for your self care.
Would you agree that T.A.P. (ping) into self care is important? What works for you?