As I sit here writing about self-care for caregivers, my mind is wandering back in time to when I was a caregiver for my mom. We journeyed together on the long road of good-bye that is Alzheimer’s disease. Because I feel this so personally, I wonder, dear readers, what I can offer to you that will help you in coping with the stress, anxiety and emotional turmoil of caring for your loved one.
Caring for a parent who is no longer the pillar strength, support and nurturing that you counted on growing up can come as a surprise and shock. The tables have turned. Your parent is no longer caring for you. You are now the person caring for your parent.
Sadness and loss become intertwined with so many other emotions. Each day and night can become a challenge of hoping the phone doesn’t ring with some sort of emergency or need to cancel your own obligations.
It seems too simple to talk about self-care as the foundation of what we need to now only survive, but to thrive, when we are struggling to care for our loved one. Did I pay attention to my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being when I was a care-giver for my mom many years ago? Unfortunately, I did not! It never seemed permissible for me to take care of myself. My mom and everyone else in my life came first.
I paid the price in not only my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, but also in the quality of presence and caregiving that I was able to give to my mother. Instead, so much of the time, I felt stressed, anxious, resentful and guilty. Can you relate to this?
In talking about self-care for caregivers, it is important to start from a different place – the place of self-compassion. In this place, a caregiver’s needs do not come last. Those needs are also not placed in competition with the needs of your loved one. Instead, the needs of both you and your loved one are a dance, back and forth.
We need to know that we cannot keep giving when we are depleted and running on empty. This means that finding some space to fill up and replenish is essential. Here are some ways to explore your self-care that encompasses how you approach your care-giving as well as what you choose to do for yourself.
1. Establishing Boundaries
Establishing boundaries is all about allowing yourself to recognize just how much you are able to do or not do. If you are juggling work and family responsibilities, you need to make sure you create space for them…and for you as well! Saying “No” to additional commitments is an essential component of setting boundaries for yourself.
2. Allow Self-Compassion
Give yourself a break! You are human, not perfect, and can only do just so much. Be your own best friend. Help your friend understand that she needs to take care of herself and that it is okay!
When we are stressed and overwhelmed we often forget to breathe deeply and fully. This focus on breathing helps us to pause and be in the moment instead of always trying to anticipate anything and everything that might or might not be coming. This anxious anticipation is more of a roadblock than a help.
4. Create Your Special Time
It might be just five or ten minutes…to sit. It could be taking a short walk or listening to music. Maybe talking to a friend or taking some time with a favorite hobby or activity will help you decompress. Whatever fits for you can be just what you need.
5. It’s Okay To Ask For Help
If you have siblings, have a family meeting to see how you can divide things up. Even if your sibling are at a distance, there are things they can do to help. Don’t think that they are mindreaders. Let them know what you need assistance with. Help can come from other sources as well. The breeding ground of resentment is in thinking that you and you alone have to do it all!
What else do I remember and keep in my heart about those years caring for my mother? I remember touching moments of connection, especially when connection was fading fast. I remember humorous moments as well. Most of all I remember that I did the best I could!