You've heard the airplane rule. When the oxygen masks drop, put yours on first BEFORE you assist any one else. The same rule should apply to care giving. Caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. You can't give from an empty well. Your well-being will directly benefit the well-being of the person that you are caring for.
If you have the belief that self-care is "selfish", you risk health problems, emotional burnout and isolation.
Most of the literature speaks about the self- care list – exercise, eat well, sleep well, and get a hobby. It is a to‑do list – important yes, but the truth of care giving is that sometimes, there is just not enough time or energy to get about the doing. Caring for yourself is put on the back burner.
However, there are ways of thinking that can promote well-being and enhance your ability to give care AND care for yourself.
If you change your mindset, you can change your experience.
1. Because You Matter
You really do matter to your loved one, to your family and to your community. It is an important shift to remember. Very often (and rightfully so) the focus is placed on the person you are caring for. If you can think of yourself as part of the team, a key player, you will be more willing to advocate for yourself and for your loved one. You matter! Make that your mantra.
2. Identify Your Personal Barriers
What is in the way of your caring for yourself as you care for another? Do you have trouble asking others for help? Does caring for yourself seem selfish? Does putting yourself first frighten you? If so why, how does your sense of self worth play into it? Do you feel inadequate when you have to ask for help?
There are a million reasons not to practice self-care. Take some time to explore what is in your way and then question the validity of the barrier.
3. Acknowledge Your Needs
You have needs on many different levels, physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual. When you view your life holistically, you are able to create more of a life balance. Perhaps today, you will not have time to read a book (mental) but you can go for a walk, have a cry, or connect with a friend or even just a short prayer or mindfulness exercise. Perhaps not all of your needs are met, but there are always ways of meeting some of them. First though, you have to acknowledge that they are there.
4. Practice Gratitude
No really – the science is in! Practicing gratitude daily will open up new neuro-pathways in the brain promoting creativity, optimism and love. Journaling your gratitudes daily trains your brain to look for things to be grateful for. As a caregiver, sometimes those small delights are hard to recognize or to savor. If you don't have time to journal, just spend a few minutes throughout your day thinking about and appreciating the good in your life.
5. Acknowledge Yourself
Do not diminish the enormity of what you are doing. Caring for another will stretch you to your limits. This is a huge undertaking and you have stepped up to the plate. There is so much room for love here and it starts with you loving yourself.
While this looks like it could be a to‑do list, it is more of a way of being. Changing your thinking in small ways will change how you experience your days. It just takes a minute to acknowledge yourself. It just takes a minute to feel gratitude or appreciation. It just takes a minute to recognize a barrier and move through it, it just takes a minute to remember that in fact You Matter.