The Importance of Self-Care
Caring for yourself when caring for a loved one is a challenge. Caring for two at the same time ups the ante even more.
When I cared for my mother with pancreatic cancer and my father with advanced Parkinson’s Disease, I was maxed out all the time.
It was such a precious time with my parents, but it was also a struggle to care for myself.
Thank goodness I had the support of my three brothers and their partners. We were basically running a nursing facility for two people, which kept us all very busy. For years I commuted between my home in Boulder and their home in Albuquerque.
The days were filled with hospital visits, doctor appointments, physical therapy, grocery shopping, meal prep and the training of sitters, CNAs and nurses. All this while also creating a warm nurturing environment for my parents and for their friends who visited.
As a conscientious daughter, I poured all my energy into the tasks at hand, which resulted in less sleep and poor eating habits for myself.
My mother noticed that about five days into each visit I became cranky and inefficient. As a psychologist, she helped me create a sustainable self-care plan so that I could maintain my resilience. I joined a gym and scheduled my daily workouts on the household calendar. I became more mindful about my food choices. And, every sixth day I took time off to catch up on my sleep.
It was also crucial that I took time throughout my day to incorporate short self-care activities as well. This might include stopping throughout the day to stretch, sitting outside under a tree while eating lunch or a taking a quick nap.
I tracked my emotions so I could recognize, honor and release them consciously. And I called close friends to share my frustrations, anger and grief. As my confidants, I could say anything, even the dreaded words, “When will this end?”
My favorite self-care practice was to sing.
Every morning, before I got out of bed, I chose a song for the day and I sang it out loud from my heart. Throughout the day this song reminded me to love myself while I was loving others.
Love Myself with Song Ritual
As a caregiver I always like to start my morning with song. It’s a way I love myself.
Tips for Self-Care
Self-care isn’t a new concept.
You have probably heard how important it is to eat well, exercise, maintain friendships, ask for support, and participate in other nurturing activities. Did you know being mindful of your thoughts is important too? What you think can actually impact the way you love and care for yourself.
Try this. Take a few moments to focus on your self-care practices and quietly allow your thoughts to come forward.
Do you think you are selfish when you put your needs first?
Do you believe the caregiving is all up to you, leaving no time for you?
Do you criticize your caregiving abilities?
Your thoughts influence your actions. Simply rephrasing them to be more positive can improve your relationship with your own self-care, paving the way to a healthier you.
“I am selfish,” becomes, “Taking care of me allows me to take care of them.”
> Follow up Action: Connect with a friend. Watch a movie. Take a bath while singing a favorite song.
“It’s all up to me,” becomes, “It’s okay to ask for help.”
> Follow up Action: Ask someone you trust for help with an errand giving you some time for just you.
“I am not a good caregiver,” is replaced by recognizing the positives throughout the day such as, “I made my loved one smile,” or “I am getting better with the bathing process.”
> Follow up Action: At the end of the day, acknowledge each one, and give yourself a pat on the back.
The Four Keys to Overcoming Negative Thinking for Good
Taking Care of YOU: Self-care for Family Caregivers
Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Songbook by Peter Blood & Annie Patterson