For some, caregiving is something that comes naturally. For many others, it is a role that you did not necessarily choose to take on, but find yourself in out of necessity. Regardless of how you got there, caring for a loved one can be both a special and rewarding time, as well as a demanding and challenging time. Because of the dedication that it takes, primary caregivers can end up having poor eating habits, no time to exercise, being sleep deprived, not allowing time to rest when they are ill, and putting off their own medical appointments and needs. From this, feelings of stress, depression, frustration or simply feeling burnt out are not uncommon.
As the saying goes, “you cannot pour from an empty cup.” If you are not taking time to care for yourself, how can you expect to continue caring for others? It may seem impossible to allow time to focus on yourself when you are caring for someone else, but even a little time can go a long way. Self-care is not something that is selfish or indulgent, it is essential! Our health and well-being not only affect us personally, but they also affect the person(s) you are caring for. It is top priority and the foundation for us to be able to attend to those who require our attention. Without self-care, caring for others is unsustainable.
But what exactly does self-care mean? Simply put, self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve your own health. It is a conscious decision to make time for activities that nourish your physical and mental health. It is an investment in your own wellbeing which allows you to thrive and live fully. Sometimes self-care looks like bubble baths and dark chocolate, and other times it is slowing down to take a few deep breaths or taking a walk around the block.
Below are some ways in which you can begin to bring the practice of self-care into your life.
Choose foods that are nutrient dense and fueling to your body. Fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, raw nuts and seeds, lean protein are healthy choices. Try to limit processed foods and those high in sugar. Though your focus may be ensuring your loved one is fed, making sure you too have regular meals is equally as important. Prepping meals and snacks ahead of time can keep you well fed and prevent you from skipping meals and reaching for unhealthy choices once hunger strikes.
Move Your Body
A body in motion stays in motion! Regular exercise not only improves overall health, but it also naturally produces stress-relieving hormones. While you may not have time to get a full workout in all at once, try breaking it up into small pieces spread throughout the day. A morning walk, a little dancing in the afternoon, some evening stretches are all great ways to stay moving. Rather than forcing yourself to do an exercise that you don’t like, find something that feels good in your body and brings you joy.
Catch Some Z’s
Being sleep deprived can leave you feeling exhausted, cloud your memory, weaken your immune system and lead to negative thoughts and emotions. As an adult, you should aim to have 7-9 hours of restorative sleep each night. Building a nighttime routine can help achieve that. Try to have the same bedtime and wake-up time and stick to it. Cut off caffeine intake 6 hours before bedtime. Limit mobile devices and tablets at least one hour before bed. Incorporate deep breathing, meditation, or guided relaxation as a way to prepare for sleep. Try adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to either a diffuser or your pillow case, to help promote relaxation. Sleep in a cool, dark room.
Take a Nature Break
Fresh air and sunshine are truly medicinal. Studies show that spending time in nature can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, increase mental clarity, reduce stress and improve mood. We are so lucky to live in an area where beautiful nature is all around us! While hiking in the mountains is one lovely way to do this, you only have to go as far as your backyard to receive these benefits. Simply sitting outside and listening to the sounds of nature, going for a walk, gardening, birdwatching, enjoying your morning tea or coffee outside, having a meal al fresco, or stargazing are all ways of deepening your connection to the natural world.
Let’s face it, it can be stressful caring for others! Relaxation practices are a wonderful way to help mitigate stress. Such practices include meditation, mindful breathing, yoga, tai chi, gardening, journaling or even quietly sipping a cup of tea. Before others are awake or when you find a lull in the day, try setting a timer and incorporating some of these practices.
Do Something You Love
Carving out space for something that you love could be just the thing that you need. Sometimes that means allowing others to step in to help, so that you can have the time for your beloved hobbies and creative outlets. This could also mean treating yourself to a massage, bubble bath, sweet treat, or time reading a book. Whatever it is, if it brings you joy, find a way to schedule it in.
Know That You Are Not Alone
Feeling isolated is not uncommon when you are in the caregiving role. Add to that being in a pandemic for the past year and times can feel extra lonely. It is important to maintain social connections to help prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness. Try reaching out to your network of supporters, whether that be a phone call or socially distanced meet-up. You don’t have to do everything on your own! Take respite care when it is needed. Seek the professional guidance of a therapist, which can be deeply beneficial. Join our caregivers support group. This is a free offering through Windhorse, and a great way to meet other caregivers and share your wisdom and challenges.
Remember, taking time for self-care will benefit all who are around you. Like anything else that is new, you have to practice it before it becomes a regular part of your routine. Start small, take advantages of the little breaks that you may have throughout your day and build on it as time allows. You are giving so much to your loved one and you too deserve to be cared for.
Content was written by:
Natalie Davidson, WEC Education and Training Coordinator, Admissions Dept, Team Supervisor, Team Leader