Self-care. I know, it’s a buzz word, and we’ve talked before about the importance of taking care of yourself if you are a parent. However, it’s so necessary and so often overlooked or ignored that it deserves more discussion. Today I want to address a broader audience—one that includes all types of caregivers. I suppose everyone experiences supporting another person at one time or another in life, but some people have strict caretaking type roles in their work or family or friendship circle. For the purposes of this post, I’m using a very broad definition of the term caretaker, so it includes anyone in a role in which they have some consistent responsibility to manage the wellbeing and care of another human being.
First, I’d like to point out that it can be challenging to take care of our own selves at times, let alone care for another person. No matter which way you spin it, being responsible for another human life is difficult. I often hear people minimize the burdensome reality of being a caretaker. There is fear about being a “complainer” or a “whiner” or about seeming “selfish” if we focus on our own needs, but there may be an internal argument going on nonetheless. When caring for someone—whether that is a person with chronic pain, an aging parent, or a young child—we sometimes find ourselves wanting to scream at the sky, “Why me! Why do I have to do this?” We may be fighting against thoughts of abandoning the person or at least detaching ourselves emotionally so that we can simply go through the motions. These are very normal experiences for caretakers that are in the early stage of burnout or compassion fatigue. Sometimes feelings of anger, guilt, frustration, irritability, and eventually apathy set in. In order to continue taking care of another person, you will need to devote time and attention to yourself to prevent or recover from burnout.
I know, I know … “When am I supposed to devote time to myself when I have so many life responsibilities?” you ask. I’m not talking about spending hours meditating or exercising every day. Keep It Simple: When you’re tired, sleep. When you’re hungry, eat. When you are lonely, give a friend a call or a hug. Five to ten minutes of quiet self-reflection whether through meditation, journaling, or prayer (or whatever form of alone time can be created) can improve your ability to slow down your reactions to stress and can help you make better decisions about your own work as a caretaker.
If you are doing too much, be honest with yourself and be kind to yourself. Part of what makes you great at taking care of others is your ability to tolerate a huge amount of stress, so you can be proud of all the hard work you’ve accomplished. Just remember, you are a Human Being, not a Human Doing. With all the stress we already experience in life and especially in the supportive services field, the last thing we need is to keep doing and stop being. So, just for today spend a minute or two reflecting on how much time and attention you’ve given yourself this week. Pick a couple of wellbeing activities from the list below to increase your self-care time.
Positive Steps to Wellbeing:
1. Be kind to yourself.
2. Walk outside for 15 minutes.
3. Listen to music.
4. Turn off screens before bed.
5. Connect with others.
6. Limit use of alcohol to cope with stress.
7. Watch a funny movie.
And, if you'd like some support in taking care of yourself or if you don't know where to start, just give us a call!
By Seija Zimmerman