You HAVE to take care of yourself.
I’m not going to try to change the words anymore. I’m not going to wince when I write it or say even though I know every caregiver is tired of hearing it.
Why try to sugar coat the one statement all of us caregivers need to live by? Why try to change the words around to get to the same message?
Self care is a real necessity. You can chose to let the idea trigger anger and frustration or you can chose to stop and consider taking action.
The phrase “self care” or being told to “take care of yourself” when you are a caregiver can sound like nails on a chalkboard. For some of us it creates an instant negative reaction. Often times it creates a sense of anger and indignation.
Something along the lines of…
Who are you to tell me I need to take care of myself?
How the Hell do you think I have the time for that?
I’m too tired to take care of myself!
I don’t have the money for that!
What does that even mean?
The main problem is there is stigma with self care and with how busy we are.
We live in a world where how hard you work is how you determine how important you are. Never have I ever heard someone say - Wow she only works two days a week she must be successful. It’s usually more like - Oh she runs a business and is always busy that must mean she’s successful. Parents always need to be busy and their kids need to be busy and sometimes parents show their worth by how involved their kids are. Everyone needs to be doing something all the time even if it’s killing them!
So, if I suggested you take a bath in the middle of the day you’d look at me like I was crazy! (plus it’d be too much work to get all the junk out of the bathtub anyway).
Ask yourself if you feel the pressure to always doing something. When you feel tired do you deny yourself a break or *gasp* a nap? When you sit down and turn the tv on do you feel like you are trying to “sneak it in”? In general, do you feel like you have to make an excuse for not being busy?
It’s because of how you look at it. Self care should not be something you earn or a carrot at the end of the stick. It should be an everyday requirement!
Being busy is not a virtue. It doesn’t get you anywhere if it doesn’t allow for your body and mind to thrive and I know of no one that is enjoying life, but stressed out all the time.
What is Self Care?
The next issue is figuring out what self care means to you. For many people self care ONLY means doing something that costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. That’s not exactly true. Self care CAN be massages, yoga classes, fancy candles and bubble bath but that is not the definition of self care. In fact the actual definition of self care is:
“The practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress” - Oxford Languages
Read it again and really take it in…
So yes, self care can be as expensive as you’d like for it to be.
Self care can also be:
Stepping outside for a few minutes.
Taking a walk.
Sitting with a drink and just enjoying the quiet.
Reading a book.
Drawing and coloring.
Singing and humming.
Writing and journaling.
Taking a bath or a long shower.
Sitting in a quiet place and breathing for 5 min.
Listening to music or a meditation.
Giving/ getting a hug.
Changing out of the pajamas you’ve been wearing for two days straight.
Calling a friend.
Laying on the grass and looking at the sky.
Just being still for a moment.
Almost all of those cost NOTHING to do. They are all about you. They give your mind a break by focussing on something that is pleasurable which tells your body that things are ok in that moment.
You have to deal with so much as a caregiver. There is so much emotional and physical stress that comes with that role and there never seems to be enough time for everything that needs to get done. When you do have a break maybe sleeping is the only thing you can think of. I’ve been there and I know how crippling stress can be for any one person trying to care for a loved one. It exhausts you, makes it hard to problem solve and you start to cling on to the things that are comfortable (chocolate chip cookies anyone?)
What surprises me is, we can all focus on the things that can make our loved ones sick but fail to understand (or acknowledge) that stress can kill. We can make up a million reasons why we can’t do anything to care for ourselves but spend a ton of time on our phone.
It begins and ends with you.
Self care isn’t about what you deserve or don’t deserve. It isn’t about working enough to feel like you’ve earned it. Self care is an essential part of a caregivers life and without it not only will you not find the happiness you’d like to have in your life but your health will begin to decline.
None of this will work for you if you don’t care about yourself or if you are waiting for someone to do it for you. I know you do a lot of important things as a caregiver so I am confident you can do this too!