A Caregiver’s Guide To Caring For Themselves
I have read, and written, so many articles about self-care for caregivers and while I still completely support the need for caregiver self-care, I also understand the reality of your life. Many of the articles I read have comments from actual caregivers discussing how difficult it is to find time to take care of themselves. When you are drowning, sometimes it can be hard to swim to the life preserver.
The challenge is, without the life preserver, you’ll just sink further. Even the best swimmer can get tired of swimming if they have a long way to go. Caregiving usually isn’t a short-term engagement that is over in a few weeks. Usually, once you step in, it can be many months or even years of caring for an extra person. You probably already are caring for others – perhaps a spouse or children – so caring for an adult relative is an extra weight on your shoulders.
I know that it is hard to put yourself first. It is a challenge for most women. One of my favorite phrases has become, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” I remind myself of this every time I feel guilty about taking time for myself.
There may be times that taking an extended self-care break is a challenge, but there is always something you can try. You can do a three minute self-care act or try self-care on a time budget. There are also tiny acts of self-care that you can incorporate in your day.
Small Acts of Self-Care
There is always something you can do to take a second to breathe. Here are some small self-care acts you can squeeze in, no matter how busy you are.
- Take a shower: New moms always talk about how they go days without showering and the feel so gross and stressed out. I never go a day without a shower. In my case, it is because my medical condition causes morning stiffness so a hot shower eases my joints. It also makes me feel ready to face the day. Get up a few minutes early and use products that have aromatherapy benefits. I am currently using a shampoo and conditioner with eucalyptus and mint and it totally wakes me up.
- Wear your favorite fragrance: Even if you aren’t going anywhere, put on your favorite fragrance so that you can enjoy it.
- Have a hot cup of coffee or tea: Take a few minutes to actually enjoy a hot cup of coffee or tea. Sit down and sip slowly, preferably with a hearty breakfast. This is something your caree can do as well, so you should be able to make it happen.
- Turn off the news: I was recently telling my acupuncturist that I’m not sure why I’m having so much shoulder tension since I have fairly low stress at the moment. He was saying that this election cycle has caused many of his patients to have more elevated stress levels. If the current media climate is causing stress or anxiety, turn it off.
- Listen to music: If you are avoiding media, or even if you’re not, try playing music that relaxes you while you enjoy your coffee or even while you’re doing some of your morning tasks.
Self-Care During the Day:
- Take a quick meditation break: While some hard-core meditation experts say that you need to take 20 minutes twice a day to meditate, there is evidence that taking even 5 minutes for mindfulness or meditation has health benefits. Find a guide that works for you and try it during a quiet break in the day.
- Color: Adult coloring books have become extremely popular because they are fun and good for you. Coloring is a great relaxation tool. If you don’t want to spend money on a fancy book, go to the Dollar Store and pick up a children’s coloring book and crayons. You can also find free coloring pages online.
- Create Affirmations: Remind yourself of your value. If you can’t come up with anything positive, use some of these caregiver affirmations.
- Get Outside: Take a walk outside in the fresh air. This is another activity that is also great for your caree, so go ahead, get out, get some vitamin D and exercise.
- Check something off your list: While this doesn’t seem very self-care-y, checking something off your list – particularly if it has been there for a while – will make you feel good about yourself. If you can’t do it all in one go, figure out how you can break it up into chunks.
- Do something you love: Do you love knitting or crafting? Set aside time to do something you enjoy. If you are having trouble squeezing in time because you can’t leave your caree alone, find a hobby that they can engage in alongside you.
Self-Care in the Evening:
Your goal in the evening is to wind down so that you can be relaxed enough for sleep. It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep when you are stressed out. These are the perfect small activities to help make your day manageable.
- Drink a warm beverage: I am going to admit something crazy here. I hate tea. Hate. My parents made me drink tea whenever I was sick as a kid and I can’t stand it now. I do, however, love hot cider. It doesn’t really matter what hot beverage you drink, just drink something that forces you to sip slowly.
- Stretch: Take a few minutes to get the kinks out. It doesn’t have to take long to stretch, pick some problem areas and figure out what the best stretches are for that area. I have neck and shoulder issues so I usually work my neck before bed.
- Burn your favorite candle: If you don’t have a favorite candle or scent, pick up a relaxing, sleep inducing scent like lavender, vanilla or jasmine.
- Express gratitude: Consider keeping a gratitude journal so that one of the last thoughts you have before going to sleep will be the good things in your life. Even if you’ve had an extremely difficult day, there is something to be thankful for, even if that something is that you survived the day. I always tell my son that tomorrow is another day, no matter how bad today was.
- Pamper yourself: Pick up a thick, luxurious hand and foot lotion and slowly rub it into your skin. It will act as both a hand and foot massage and care for your skin.
- Read a book: Pick up a book and read a few pager or a chapter before you go to bed.
Sometimes, the thought of creating a self-care routine can seem overwhelming. These are easy things anyone can work into their day. You don’t have to do everything, just pick one or two things at a time and add in more when you can.