Being the caregiver for a patient or family member who has special needs can be very demanding. Preventing, as well as managing the effects of stress is something many healthcare providers are focusing on for their patients and for themselves.
Those of us who are caregivers experience increased levels of stress on a daily basis due to the nature of our roles. Even though it is incredibly rewarding, caring for those in need can contribute to an unhealthy level of stress. One extremely effective way to combat the additional stress that comes with being a caregiver is to focus on self-care.
What is Self-Care?
Self-Care has an individualized meaning for everyone and can include a plethora of activities. A basic definition of self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, particularly during periods of stress.
As a group, caregivers are excellent at protecting the well-being of others, but not as proficient at doing the same for themselves. In today’s high-stress culture, it is imperative that we are taking the necessary time to care for ourselves. This can prevent burnout, compassion fatigue, and physical and mental health ailments. It can also provide a deeper connection to the care we give, thereby benefiting the individual caregiver as well as the recipient of that care.
Recognizing areas of stress is the first key element in self-care. Journaling can be a wonderful tool for this. Taking five minutes at the end of a busy day to expend some emotional energy in the form of writing can be quite therapeutic.
Listen to yourself. You may be surprised at what you have to say.
Furthermore, ask someone else to listen to you. Talk therapy with a psychologist or licensed counselor can provide tremendous insight into our own personal stressors and help prevent mental health crises.
Once stress is identified, it is time to start finding ways to reduce it. The main pillar of self-care is comprised of stress reduction techniques.
A well-known stress reduction method is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness is purposeful attention to the present moment. It is the act of doing something with intention and awareness. Mindfulness can be applied to many activities. Traditional meditation, yoga or Thai chi practices are great examples of mindfulness and can be extremely effective. You can also incorporate MBSR tools into daily rituals with minimal time commitment.
Simple practices such as a body scan or breath awareness exercise are shown to be effective even when used minimally. Try merging these techniques with routine daily tasks. When you brush your teeth, take two minutes to check in with how your body is feeling. When you lay down to go to bed at night, take notice of five purposeful breaths.
Another seemingly simple way to reduce stress is by saying “no.” Often, we are overscheduled yet continue to agree to take on more. Reminding ourselves that our first responsibility is to ourselves can help combat stress. When asked to add an event to an already bursting calendar, take time to think about the impact.
Ask yourself, “Does this serve me?” and be confident that if the answer is “no,” everyone in the situation will benefit from that honesty. For those who are constant “givers,” saying “no” may be quite difficult, if not impossible. You may find other ways of communicating this message simply by saying, “Is it okay if I get back to you?”
By doing so, you allow yourself to truly assess your capacity to take on this task and, if nothing else, formulate a well-thought-out response.
When we have found ways to reduce daily stress, we can start to build our skills in resilience. Resilience is one’s ability to cope during stressful circumstances. You could call resilience the long-term goal of self-care. Daily acts of self-care can help to prepare us for times of hardship. One incredibly powerful tool in resilience is self-compassion. Being mindful of how we speak to ourselves can be really healing. One good practice is to talk to ourselves in the same way we talk to those we care for. Use language that is kind, uplifting and considerate. Research shows that the brain is wired to favor negative feedback; meaning we remember the “bad” greater than we remember the “good.” Thus, we have to work that much harder for our brains to absorb a self-compassionate practice.
Overall, the truth of the matter is that self-care is essential, and it is needed more than ever right now.
Denying ourselves the very care we are providing others can prevent us from becoming our best. When we are our best selves, we are our best caregivers. It may only take one or two minutes a day, but a little self-care can last a lifetime. Try some of these techniques and make time for yourself today.