No Care Without Self-Care
Caregivers in the United States are a diverse group of individuals that represent approximately 17% of Americans. Nearly 40 million people that differ in age, gender, socioeconomic status, and racial/ethnic background have taken on the responsibility of caring for the needs of someone living with a chronic condition, a disability, or the impacts of old age on their own self-care.Caring for a loved one can be one of the most rewarding acts you may perform in your lifetime, but it can also be one of the most challenging. Typically, family caregivers wear multiple hats; you are the nurse, the banker, the psychologist, and the chauffeur. Due to the wide range of responsibilities, your role is vital to the sustainability and longevity of your care-receiver.
In contrast, studies have shown that caregivers need to maintain their own self-care, as caregiving can have negative impacts on a caregiver’s health, both physical and emotional.
To ensure caregiver burnout does not occur, you must practice emotional hygiene with the same diligence you take when caring for your loved one.
Emotional hygiene refers to the practice of being mindful of our psychological health and adopting brief daily habits to monitor and address psychological wounds when we sustain them. As caregiver burnout can manifest itself in a variety of ways, a few common signs to look out for include: anxiety, depression, irritability, new or worsening health problems, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, drinking, smoking or eating more, or neglecting your self-care, health, and wellness.
Optimize Your Self-Care
Although there is no one-size-fits-all remedy for caregiver burnout, there are a number of things you can all do to ensure you are optimizing your own personal health and wellness. To those that believe there is just not enough time in the day for self-care, ask yourself, "What good will I be to the person I care for if I become ill?"
Once you’ve answered that question, consider the following strategies to improve your quality of life:
- Make Your Wellbeing A Priority
We often try to postpone our happiness and wellbeing for a more convenient time. Others may decide that their happiness will be achieved with the completion of a milestone. However, if you continue to delay your happiness, you will find that your days become weeks, weeks become months, and months become years. By the time you may feel ready, too much time will have passed. Do your best to live in the present moment, and choose happiness, now.
- Take Inventory
I encourage you all to make this important step when beginning your journey to self-care. Sometimes we just don’t know where to begin, and if that is the case with you, begin by taking inventory. I encourage you to examine 3 major aspects of your wellbeing - spiritual, mental, and physical - and rank them on a scale from 1 to 10. If any particular area ranks below 5, then prioritize that as your initial area of improvement.
- Establish A Morning Ritual
Time is a barrier for most people, even those who are not caregivers. Allocating even just 10 minutes to yourself in the morning can have profound impacts on your mood and outlook on life. You can take those 10 minutes to tend to your spiritual, mental, and physical wellness. Things to consider doing include meditation, writing down personal development goals, and stretching.
- Create A Happiness List And Practice It
When we become consumed with the well-being of others, we tend to forget about the things that bring us joy. I encourage you all to create a happiness list of 10-20 items.Identify things that cost money and those that do not. Give yourself permission to indulge yourself with the items on your list, even if they cost money. Remember, you work hard. An occasional treat is a good self-care investment towards your happiness. Whether it be a manicure or a walk around the park, pick a few items on your list and practice it at least 1 hour a week.
If you’re feeling really low, try to pick an item from your list and do it every single day.
- Create A Daily Self-Care Log
Use a daily self-care log as a tool to help you summarize various components of your self-care. It should break down the essential components of your day that contribute to your overall wellness. Try to keep track of the following items and monitor changes in your behavior and how they affect your well-being:
- Meals for the day
- Physical activity
- Daily goals
- End of day recap
- Goals for tomorrow
- Establish An Evening Ritual
Turning off our brains at the end of the night can sometimes be a challenge. Implementing an evening ritual can ease the transition into sleep mode. When you have a million tasks to complete the next day, doing some planning the night before can help you get a jump start.
Also, it is a good idea to avoid technology (cell phones, computers, and television) at least 1 hour before bed for optimal self-care. Avoiding electronics can help your brain transition into a state of rest.
Incorporating restful activities before bed can be useful as well: deep breathing, prayer, and meditation can help bring your body and mind to a restful and peaceful place which can enhance your quality of sleep.
- Guided Meditation
Incorporating guided meditation into your daily routine can significantly improve your state of mind and outlook on life. Not only has guided meditation been known to reduce stress, it also increases happiness, improves your concentration, and has positive impacts on your cardiovascular and immune health. Although it may be difficult to get your mind to calm itself, taking a few minutes away from the stress of life can provide a calm alertness that can motivate you to continue your journey to a happier life.
There are as many ways to practice self-care as there are caregivers. Find what works to relieve your stress and help you decompress from the stresses of your life, and make an effort to practice self-care activities, and you will find that your ability to care for others improves as well.