Self-Care for Caregivers
What if… we cared for ourselves, like we cared for others?
At the end of 2020, I had some work to do. The so-called self-care I had been practicing in order to cope with the stress, grief and uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t actually self-care. It was more like self-soothing, and there is a difference. Certainly, drinking wine, binge-watching Netflix, carbo – and choco- loading, plus spending more days than normal in my pajamas, felt like just what the moment called for. But the residual effects of that so-called care, left me worried about my weight, my blood pressure, and my fitness level, never mind my waistline and my wrinkles.
And that’s the difference between self-soothing and self-care: Both can make you feel good in the moment, but the long-term effect of self-soothing adds stress to your life, while the long- term effect of self-care is net positive.
So heading into 2021, I needed a new plan. How was I going to make the switch from my sedentary, self-indulgent habits to a healthier, happier life? And that’s when the idea came to me: What if I cared for myself the way I have cared for others? What would that look like?
When I cared for my mother, I was hyper-vigilant about what she ate. What was the sodium content in her food? Was she getting enough protein? How could we add fresh vegetables to her diet? When I cared for my Dad, I advocated for him like a boss. I made sure he was included in social activities at his assisted living facility and that he scheduled, and went to, all of his medical appointments. When I cared for my husband, I encouraged him to get up and move every day – even when all he could muster was a walk around the block.
What if I made myself exercise every day – no matter what? What if I advocated for myself as much as I advocated for others? What if I managed my diet before potentially developing a chronic condition? Don’t I deserve the same level of love and care I have shown others? Don’t you?
When I thought about caring for myself, my mindset shifted. Taking care of myself went from something I have historically under-prioritized, to something I am really good at. I have mad caregiving skills – I just need to apply them to myself! Will you join me this month in adding yourself to your priority list?
Now, I know we are all in different phases of caregiving – some more intense than others. So self-care is going to look different for all of us. Just like the level of care we provide to others differs, so too will the level of care we provide to ourselves. But we all deserve to be cared for. As I said when I first created the Working Daughter Bill of Rights, “Nowhere it is it written that your life, your dreams, your health, come last.” And, we all need to take care for ourselves, if for no other reason than being able to care for others. So in this guide you’ll find several resources to help you, no matter your level of commitment to self-care. But may I suggest, you at least commit to taking at least one positive step toward caring for yourself?
By a working daughter for working daughters
Create your personal care plan
Download your personal care plan.
Often, when you are caring for someone else, you create a care plan. Well, if you’re going to care for yourself, you need one too. You should have received a downloadable care plan along with this guide.
The plan walks you through 4 steps:
- Assessment: The first step in creating a self-care plan is gathering information and identifying any problem(s) areas.
- Prioritization: You need to balance your care with all of your other priorities in life. So in this step, you will make a list of a few key areas you want, and/or need, to focus on.
- Team Building/Resource Development: Just as you have built a team, and gathered resources to care for others, you want to identify who and what you need to support your own care plan.
- Action Plan: Finally, you will create an action plan. It should be manageable, and, measurable.
Challenge Limiting Beliefs
In order to giver yourself permission to care for yourself, you must challenge limiting beliefs that hold you back. Here are two common beliefs of working daughters:
1. No one else can do what I do/as well as I do it.
This might actually be a true statement. Perhaps no one else can do what you’re doing as well as you’re doing it. Or maybe your worried that your parents only want you to help them. Well, sometimes we just need to accept good enough. I know it’s hard to deny the people we are caring for what they want. I know it can be uncomfortable to say no. But when those requests are causing you undue stress, you don’t have to deliver – especially if you can offer a comparable alternative.
Make a list of the tasks you do as a caregiver, and then identify a few that don’t require perfection. Maybe you’re not ready to give up attending doctors’ appointments because you want to make sure you get all of your questions answered, or you don’t feel comfortable asking anyone else to help with money management and bill paying. But are you really the only one who can run errands? Does it really matter if someone else buys the groceries and brings home the wrong brand of paper towels? It does not. Let it go.
2. Putting myself first would be selfish.
First of all, we’re not talking about necessarily putting yourself first – just equal. Second, taking care of you is never selfish. In fact, it’s self-less. If others are truly dependent on you for their well-being, then isn’t it selfish to leave your well-being to chance?
If you have internalized this belief, reframe it: Caring for yourself is not taking time away from caregiving; it is part of caregiving. It is part of what you must do to effectively care for someone else. Is it selfish to stop and put gas in your car when the tank is low? No, it’s necessary in order to keep driving.
Self-Compassion; The First Step in Self-Care
Compassion is defined as sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Compassion requires offering kindness and understanding instead of judging. So self-compassion means you accept your short comings, you acknowledge and appreciate the difficulties you face, you embrace your humanness, and you care for yourself. Self-compassion is a critical step in self-care. Imagine feeling empathy toward yourself!
PositivePsychology.com recommends taking these steps to develop your self-compassion. Use the Self-Compassion worksheet to answer these questions.
Choose a difficult life situation. (Hello! Caregiving?!?) Describe this situation.
What is one thing that you can do to take care of your emotional needs?
What is one thing that you can do to make yourself feel physically better?
What is one thing that can you say to yourself to validate your feelings?
How can you motivate yourself with kindness, support, and understanding, rather than criticism?