Self-Care for Caregivers
SELF-CARE PRACTICES TO AVOID CAREGIVER'S BURNOUT
We live in a world where the demands on society have progressively increased. People have busier schedules which often result in the needs of caregivers going unnoticed or unmet by the most well intentioned of us. Community and government resources, as well as offers of help from family and friends, are limited so caregivers are still suffering from immense strain, duress and loneliness.
Self-care for the caregiver is an essential practice and not just a theory or a ‘wellness phase’. Caregiver’s burnout is a very real and serious condition which can lead to distractions, loneliness, depression, anxiety, stress, high blood pressure and poor nutrition. These ailments are very debilitating by and of themselves but they can also be precursors to accidents, stroke, heart attack, cancer and death.
To understand what caregiver's burnout is and why it is a crisis situation visit my post: Caregiver's Burnout.
Have you given thought to what will happen to your care recipient if you become temporarily or permanently incapacitated and are unable to provide care to your care recipient? You and your care recipient would be in a pickle at best!
Ultimately you are responsible for your own self-care. If you can summon up the time and motivation to apply some of the simple self-care practices in this article, together with the advice of your own doctor and other health professionals, you can feel confident that you are doing your very best as a caregiver.
INDEX OF CONTENTS
1. THE JOYS AND STRAINS OF CAREGIVING:
As a full-time caregiver how many times have you heard from well-meaning friends and family “who is taking care of the carer?” “make time for yourself” and “you have to look after your own health or you won’t be any good to anyone” or “you should pamper yourself and get a massage or go to a movie”?
If you are like me you just smile and nod but inside you want to scream at them through gritted teeth, “You have no idea but if you would like to do my housework or cook a meal, please feel free as I won’t say ‘no’!”
Being a full-time caregiver for your spouse or a family member can be very demanding and socially isolating. Parenthood is very much a caregiver role too as you are responsible for the well-being your children. As a carer you are responsible for providing meals, organising activities, making sure grooming and hygiene are maintained and providing support and guidance.
You don’t have the luxury of starting your day at 9am and knocking off at 5pm. It is probable that your day begins around 6am and finishes around 10pm. Depending on your caring situation you may be called upon during the night to assist with toileting, medication, nightmares, discomfit or just for a chat.
You don’t have two days off a week either. A carer’s working week is 7 days of ‘ground hog days’. Each and every day is the same and they blur into each other. Sure, there are some days that are more exciting than others – like when Coverley put his legs into the sleeves of his pyjama shirt and hopped around while trying to hitch it up to his waist. This is true, he has skinny legs. Or the time he successfully got his tee-shirt pulled up to his waist by putting his legs through the neck of it. Great idea if all your skirts are in the wash. Another time he used my tube of yellow acrylic paint to clean his dentures.
Up until Coverley was admitted to Lismore Base Hospital, he was still quite functional in his daily living activities. His main difficulty, due to his dementia, was memory loss and sporadic bouts of confusion. Cov (shortened from Coverley) was still able to shower himself, toilet himself and feed himself but he relied on me for direction and guidance. Even though my workload could have been more demanding, I was still exhausted from constantly searching for things like his dentures, repeating things over and over, reminding him to do things, and the endless appointments with doctors, dentists and specialists.
I was genuinely happy to sacrifice my time to care for the wellbeing and health of the person that I loved while I still could. Time was on my side, but his time was limited and I wanted to milk it for all it was worth. Besides, I felt like I was coping despite being tired and getting short tempered at times. Then I would feel guilty for being ‘snappy’.
Like most of us I was probably in denial that the situation had become overwhelming. Admitting defeat or that I needed help, somehow in a wacko kind of way, translated that I was a failure for not having boundless energy, patience and time.
It was some time before I realised that I was pouring from an empty cup and was getting lost in someone else’s world of dementia. The turning point was when I had my own health scare and the gravity of it made me realise that it was vital that I rescue myself and start taking better care of myself. Hidden stress has a way of masquerading as strength or resilience and then suddenly removing its mask and making an unannounced appearance at a most inconvenient or embarrassing time.
It is easy to be so focused on your caring duties that you put your own needs on the back burner and don’t make some time for yourself. Often after a day spent caring for your loved one, the luxury of just being able to snuggle into bed and drift into oblivion is as good as it gets to “me time” for a lot of caregivers. You must do better than this.
|Be Self-Care Aware|
Initially self-care sounded selfish, frivolous, indulgent, expensive and time consuming to me.
I have since discovered that self-care isn’t solely about ‘me time’ as there are numerous and creative ways to soothe, relax, feel joy and stay connected to yourself as well as to family and friends.
Self-care isn’t all about having a girl’s weekend away, a massage or a make-over even though they are great ways to treat yourself.
Self-care includes checking in on yourself and asking yourself if you are OK. It is ensuring that are you getting adequate amounts of nourishing food, relaxation and exercise to maintain a healthy mind and body so as to be able to put your best foot forward.
As a care giver it is essential to take time-out for yourself before you lose your identity or ‘carer’s burnout’ sneaks up on you. It is OK to be selfish and to prioritise yourself, however, it is easier said than done. You’re feeling exhausted after having spent the day completing all of your care duty tasks. Setting personal goals of self-care activities just feels like more work. How do you get motivated?
You actively have to schedule self-care around your daily routine and any appointments that you are committed to. The Carer’s 2022 Diary and Journal is the ideal companion for this.
As well as being a diary to record and journal in, it has infographic suggestions for self-care, a monthly affirmation and weekly quotations to uplift and encourage you on your caregiving journey.
If possible, organise respite care for the person you care for. For ease of simplicity it is best if you can commit to the same day each week, but this ‘day’, as in my case, was usually only 4 – 5 hours. Another option is to consider overnight respite care but my Coverley wouldn’t have a bar of that!
If you can’t organise community respite care or for a family member, relative or neighbour to sit with your loved one then you will need to get creative and improvise. For example, does the person you care for have an afternoon ‘nap’? Are they able to go for a short walk on their own? Or are you able to give them a job to do or some fun activity to occupy them?
If you really can’t arrange physical time away from the person, there are still a variety of self-care activities you can employ. One suggestion is that you may be able to do some self-care activities together, such as spending some time at the beach or having a picnic in a park. There are spiritual and emotional self-care practices that can be done while in the presence of your care receiver which are very beneficial – indeed they could save a lot of anger, frustration and tears.
2. WHAT IS SELF-CARE:
Self-care is self-initiated behaviour by individuals to incorporate a set of activities on a daily basis to take care of themselves so they can be physically, mentally, and emotionally well.
It is about managing issues and other stressors as they come up by applying coping strategies or by seeking professional guidance.
Self-care involves a holistic approach which requires interaction with various healthcare professionals for advice and treatment as required. This includes being responsible for scheduling cancer screenings, taking medications on time and having regular health checks to monitor blood pressure and cholesterol.
As self-care has become more widely practiced by the general public, definitions of self-care have come to include anything that you do for yourself that feels nourishing. It could be any practice that is relaxing, calming, intellectual, physical or spiritual. You might feel nourished and relaxed by watering the plants or grooming your pet.
There are eight recognised self-care types on the wellness wheel. For the purposes of this blog post I am going to focus on five of them. The physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social types of self-care. Of course, self-care activities done for one self-care type can be the same activity from another type of self-care. The more you apply or practice a particular activity, the stronger you become in other self-care types.
There are numerous self-care activities within the self-care wellness dimensions, from relaxing to challenging, from pampering to essential. I understand how time poor, tired, stressed and financially stretched the caring role is, but most self-care practices are relatively simple to implement and you can spend as little or as much time as you like on a practice.
3. THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF CARE:
Our own physical and emotional health is crucial if we want to give our care recipient the full support and attention that they need and still have enough spark left over to ignite our own desires.
We all get bogged down by the pressures and demands of everyday life, but none more so than care givers. The care giver’s role is one of the most stressful experiences that we will ever undertake as we are responsible for someone else’s wellbeing and safety and we want to do it well.
To do it well we need to be conscious of our own physical and emotional health as our energy levels are quickly depleted when we are under duress and stress putting our own health in danger. We need to be prepared to take action to replenish and restore our energy levels to achieve a robust overall state of wellness for optimal functioning.
It is all too easy to lack motivation when we are feeling stressed, tired and over-committed. To try and have some order in our day to accomplish all the tasks and goals that we have set, we have created a routine that feels comfortable and safe. It has become a habit and it may actually be working, but is your own health and quality of life suffering? Are there days where you are just going through the motions and are struggling with life’s ‘imbalances’?
It doesn’t have to be difficult to get motivated if we start small by expanding on the basics that we are already employing each day, such as bending deeper and stretching higher when pegging clothes on the line. Be aware of any opportunities to increase physical or emotional self-care. Become familiar with the self-care dimensions and weave one of the practices into your daily routine each week. Patiently and mindfully add more practices as your time and situation allows.
“As Parker Palmer said, “Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.” - Peter Scazzero
4. THE BENEFITS OF SELF-CARE:
Self-care practices promote positive health outcomes such as strengthening resilience, increasing longevity and learning how to effectively manage stress.
Some benefits are:
* You are your best physical, mental and emotional self
* You have more joy
* You are more patient
* You are more optimistic
* Your stress levels decrease
* You are more organised
* You have more time
* You are more confident
* You have more energy, vim & vigour
* You are a better Caregiver.
* You are better company
5. TYPES OF SELF-CARE:
Body or Physical Self-Care is the ability to maintain a quality of life that allows you to get the most out of your daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress.
Physical self-care might seem overwhelming or intimidating at first. Your heart is palpitating just at the thought of doing push-ups and squats at the gym or running a marathon.
Essentially, physical self care practices only require that you make the effort to do the basics for yourself every day.
You can expand on the basics of daily body care with just a little extra effort.
For example, instead of a shower you could allow an extra 5 or 10 minutes to soak in a bubble bath. You could spend two minutes more and put on some moisturiser, sunblock or extra makeup. Why not do some exaggerated stretching when getting undressed and dressed or towel dry yourself more briskly than usual? With a bit of thought and creativity you have just added a little more exercise and pampering to your daily physical self-care.
Emotional Self-Care involves being aware of your many emotions and how you use them to respond to everyday experiences and interactions. When you better understand why you are feeling a certain way you are better able to choose how to actively respond to those feelings and express yourself in an appropriate way. Will you yell, sulk, laugh, feel nervous or remain calm?
Emotional self-care will be different for each and every one of us as we have all had different experiences. To a large extent our emotions and character are dictated by our experiences.
As a child, if you fell over and cried your Mother might have given you a hug, soothed and reassured you. If another child also fell over and cried, his Father might have said, “You are OK, stop crying”.
These are two different responses to the same situation possibly resulting in different emotions. For the first child, the emotions felt might be comfort, security and calm. For the second child, the emotions felt might be pain, shame and anxiety.
Don't be harsh on yourself if you don't emotionally respond in the same way to the same situation as another person, as you will both process and react to the situation in ways that are familiar to your own experiences. It takes time, work and a shift in thinking to to gain balance over your emotional responses.
Many of us completely ignore our emotions by pushing them to the back of our minds in the hope that they’ll disappear. They don’t disappear on their own accord. It is essential for our emotional wellbeing to honour, acknowledge and express them or they will only get stronger and may overwhelm you and lead to feelings of burnout.
When you develop the skills to manage your thoughts and feelings it will be easier to handle tough emotional situations as they present.
Diarizing or journaling are great ways to get clarity and perspective over how you are feeling.
Seeing the glass half full versus half empty is optimistic and is highly correlated with resilience and emotional acceptance. Optimism and resilience can reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. If we are optimistic we tend to see the potential for positive outcomes in our experiences which is a far better option than choosing to feel pessimistic and then be overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings.
Certain situations and experiences will arouse certain emotions in us but when we have regulated our own emotional world, with the support of emotional self-care practices, we can consciously choose how to respond to those feelings in an appropriate way.
Spiritual Self-Care is fundamentally about connecting with your inner spirit. Spiritual wellness may not be something that you think much about, yet it is at the core of your overall wellbeing as it impacts all of your self-care dimensions. The opposite is also true. If you practice self-care in the other dimensions then your inner spirit will reap the health benefits.
"Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature." - quote by Peter Scazzero
The basis of spirituality is discovering a sense of meaningfulness in your life and defining your individual purpose. Spirituality can originate from religious beliefs, faith, values, ethics, moral principles or being at peace with nature.
What is a spiritual experience? It can be surfing a wave, baking scones, yoga practice, worshipping in church or watching a sunset.
We accept that it is important to exercise and nourish our physical bodies and to care for the earth’s environment but neglect to exercise and nourish the soul within. If we became more diligent in practicing spiritual self-care it would increase our capacity for peace, kindness, joy, creativity, patience and gratitude.
When your “spiritual self” is strong and in tune with your emotional self you are more resilient and better prepared to cope with life’s challenges with grace, tranquility and confidence. Your physical pleasure in life increases and you are better equipped to form authentic relationships with other people.
Intellectual Self-Care is about lifelong learning, curiosity, being open to new ideas, thinking critically and finding ways to be creative.
Practicing intellectual self-care by engaging in mentally stimulating activities expands your mind and knowledge making you more intelligent and accomplished.
It is about challenging yourself and can include anything from taking up a new hobby, reading a book, doing puzzles, watching a documentary, or anything that takes you out of your comfort zone. Just as increasing physical activities build a healthier and stronger body, challenging yourself with new mentally stimulating activities strengthens your mind which will increase your intelligence.
Have you ever tackled something that you thought was beyond your abilities or outside of your comfort zone? Have you tried a new hobby like learning to paint or draw? You may be surprised at what your emotional and spiritual houses reveal when you are immersed in being creative or in pursuit of a new skill.
You will feel more confident and be independent for having learned how to use a power drill to build a planter box. No more waiting for someone else to do it or spending big dollars on buying one. You will be renovating the bathroom in no time.
Intellectual self-care is also about practicing mindfulness, especially when learning how to use a power drill, and having a positive mindset.
Engagement in creative and mentally stimulating activities allows you to find balance in other self-care dimensions as well. The benefits are immense and rewarding and lead to a more productive, happy, confident and smarter you.
Social Self-Care is about forming and nurturing relationships with other people. Human beings are social beings and healthy interaction with each other makes us feel fulfilled, validated and loved.
Social engagement also includes developing meaningful and supportive relationships with individuals, groups and communities. It doesn’t include superficial brief interactions with people. If we don’t have loyal and close social interactions we can feel isolated, lonely and depressed which could lead to mental health issues.
By practicing social self-care, we learn social skills to effectively communicate our needs as well as skills to listen to other peoples’ needs. We learn to form bonds of respect and trust so that we can support each other in times of trouble or stress.
It is joyous and comforting to be able to spend time in conversation or doing activities with friends and family. Quality social connections create lasting memories and enrich our total wellbeing.
Be mindful of who you reach out to. You want quality relationships that enrich your life and leave you feeling fulfilled and valued.
Even the closest of relationships need boundaries so that you can have quiet time to connect with your inner-self. Communicate clearly and respectfully when you need to pull back to focus on you.
"Boundaries are one of the essential concepts in self-care," says Cynthia Catchings, L.C.S.W.-S., a therapist for the online mental health platform Talkspace. "Without them, we cannot say that we are taking care of ourselves."
Abuse of boundaries can lead to resentment and erode at good relationships.
6. SELF-CARE PRACTICES AND ACTIVITIES
I have created a two column table listing the self-care types with their correlated practices and activities.
These self-care practices can strengthen and nurture your total being for confidence, longevity and your best emotional and spiritual self. Some of these practices and activities appear in more than one self-care type. This is a positive thing because if you practice it for one self-care type you have consequently strengthened another self-care type.
By applying a few of them in your daily life your overall wellness will improve, making you a stronger, happier and calmer person. You will better be able to carry out your caregiver responsibilities.
It isn't possible to do all of the practices in the table so choose what appeals to you and weave it into your day. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start low and go slow. Stick with one or two or try a variety of practices to see what motivates you the most.
Finally, at the bottom of the table, I have concluded with some Pamper Self-Care practices and activities.
These self-care practices consist of product and service activities that may involve some cost, the purchasing of products or the making of appointments for consultations or services.
Pamper self-care practices are tactile and sensory experiences that will appeal to your “inner beauty queen” and are a great way to indulge and coddle your deserving self with some loving care.
Practices and Activities
Body – Physical
This aspect of self-care is the most straightforward one as it comes down to good nutrition to nourish your body, sufficient amount of recovery time (rest and sleep), and necessary exercise.
Brush your teeth;
Take a bath or shower;
Drink a few glasses of water;
Eat a nourishing diet;
Quality sleep for at least 7-8 hours a night
Make time to move your body. Aim to increase your heart rate every day for at least 20- 30 minutes. You can even break up your daily 30 minutes into three ten-minute bouts!
Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever possible
Yoga - YouTube is free and easily accessible if you can't attend a class
Walk around the neighbourhood and admire the gardens
Walk around the shopping centre and browse
Walk along the beach or in the park
Walk the dog
Mow the grass with a push mower if you have a small yard
Weed the garden, put in some new plants,
If you have a bike go for a ride
Emotional self-care is a difficult one to master as it requires a lot of discipline, patience, awareness and self-forgiveness.
Emotions are essentially “energy in motion." They are not good or bad. They are just energy. It is how you respond to those emotions that matter.
Take time for yourself to quiet your mind and reflect.
Smile and laugh! Good for the belly and the jowls.
Seek or accept help and support from others when the going gets too tough to do it alone.
Share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. Remember to listen to others’ emotions too.
Practice gratitude to stay grounded.
Be optimistic as it can help to perceive difficulties as opportunities for personal growth.
Think before you act so that you respond appropriately
Accept mistakes as a learning experience. You are only human so don’t punish yourself
Be kind to yourself.
Diaries and journals are companions that add order to your days and clarity to your feelings
Exercise patience over hurrying to “get things done”.
Practice acceptance – change what you can, accept what you can’t
Learn to say ‘no’ to avoid feelings of regret or resentment
Find purpose and meaning in what you do for joyful and positive emotions
Write yourself a letter; write down what you like about yourself. Do you need to forgive yourself for anything? Write it down. Post the letter to yourself.
Soul - Spiritual
Our soul is where everything dwells from. If it grows weary then it begins to impact all of our being and self-care dimensions. Don’t let yourself become jaded from not enough spiritual self-care
Explore your inner self by taking time to think about who you are.
Make a bucket list – it doesn’t have to be grand or adventurous. Make it fun but achievable.
Declutter your home – it will lighten your spirit and mind and give you a sense of control
Meditate or practice mindful relaxation. Begin with 5 minutes of gentle, rhythmic breathing. That will be enough to realise the benefits of meditating.
Practice intentional quiet time.
Practice acceptance. Let go of things you can’t change
Practice patience. Take 10 deep breaths.
Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, or just whisper your thanks to yourself when you go to bed at night.
Pray or reach out to a higher power
Think about the meaning of life
Be curious. Ask questions. Why do things happen the way they do? Look for answers--in books, from teachers, from other people, from nature. Or look into your soul.
Maintain a sense of humour. Humour is the best medicine to decrease stress and put life’s challenges in perspective.
Be generous. Do it because it feels good. Only do it when it feels good. But do it.
Watch wildlife. Even in the city, there are birds and bugs. Just sit for a bit and watch them do their thing.
Sit quietly in nature. Under a tree or on a rock. Listen, watch, feel. Give nature your worries and troubles to "mulch" them into fertile soil or float them down a rippling stream or let the wind carry them away.
Walk in nature. Tread slowly. Observe. Feel. Smell. Connect with the magic of nature.
Be mindful in the present. Don’t rush the stairs - pay attention. Savour your food – don’t talk or laugh with a mouth full of food. Smell the coffee.
Write - Journal – Doodle. Connect your hand to your heart and brain. Sing for inner happiness. It's just as powerful in the car, in the shower, or in church.
Forgive. This is the most powerful exercise for the soul. Forgive others; forgive yourself--let go of the hurt, the pain, the resentment, the anger, the sorrow and the hurt. Let it go.
Dream. Allow yourself to imagine and feel your dream experience or life. Totally immerse yourself in it. Your feelings are as real as if your dream had come true without the expense. Remember how real Santa Claus was to you? That is faith. That is joy. Your feelings were just as real as if he had been the real thing.
Remember to practice your values.
Immerse yourself in your favourite activity and escape from the physical world for a while.
Reminisce - go through old photos; treasure box
Mind – Intellectual
This dimension of self-care is about the ability to seek out new ideas, experiences, and skills for lifelong learning. This practice helps to expand your mind to become a smarter you. You feel accomplished, sharp and more confident.
Be open-minded to new ideas and possibilities.
Learn a new hobby or resume a past one that made you happy. Hobbies are great ways to increase your skill set. They are fun and help you to reconnect to your “inner you”!
Travel and immerse yourself in a new culture. If you can’t afford to or can’t manage the time away but you live in a city, consider going into a suburb with a large immigrant population. Smell and taste different foods. How do the people communicate with each other and with you?
Take a class online. Learning a new language is one of the most challenging things we can do for our brain.
Read for pleasure or to expand your knowledge on a topic you are interested in.
Engage in research opportunities or sign-up to do surveys.
Crosswords, jigsaws and other puzzles are fun and help with brain stimulation
Question, explore and research everything of interest. Don’t be satisfied until you know all you can about it.
Socialise for company, stimulation and relaxation
Social interaction can help you feel fulfilled, validated, and loved. Try to practice reaching out when you need help or company, because it gets easier each time you challenge yourself to do it.
Reflecting on yourself and your social needs. What aspects of your social life do you enjoy? What parts would you like to improve?
Socialise and connect by having coffee or going to the movies with a friend
Phone a friend
Make an effort to keep in touch with supportive friends, family and mentors.
Participate in group discussions and practice active listening.
Get involved by joining a club or organization. Becoming involved in organisations of your interest can provide a great way to meet new friends and engage in activities that bring joy to you.
Volunteer in the community.
Learn how to say “no”: Being aware of your boundaries and communicating them allows for you to recharge and to just ‘be’ with your inner-self.
Pamper self-care will awaken your sensory and tactile senses leaving you feeling refreshed and revitalised.
Paint your own nails with a friend over a glass of wine
Splurge out on a manicure or pedicure
Give yourself a 10 minute soothing foot soak. Add half cup epsom salts or sea salt and your favourite essential oil to a basin of warm water.
DIY facial or go to a professional beautician
Treat yourself to a massage once a month or whenever you can. A great way to connect mind and body.
Visit the hairdresser and get a new ‘do’
Have a luxurious scented bubble bath. Afterwards, liberally massage your body with scented lotions or oils.
Light some scented candles or use an aromatherapy diffuser.
Listen to sleep stories at bedtime. Free sleep stories and meditations are available at: OM Collective
Two 'must listen to' sleep stories:
Under a Botswana Sky Sleep Story (Be transported to Africa and fall asleep to the story of safari tenting under the starry celestial skies of Botswana.)
Goodnight Sugarloaf Bush Babies (a Children's Sleep Story but also very enchanting and relaxing for grown-ups.)
Complete this bedtime experience with a nice warm therapeutic lavender eye pillow from Botanical Trader.
Go to the movies and eat popcorn. Go with a friend or go alone.
Buy yourself a beautifully wrapped Self-care Pamper Pack. Or buy one for someone special just to say 'thank you - treat yourself to some loving care." They can be purchased from Botanical Trader.