Self care is very hot right now. Gourmet bubble baths with Himalayan salts and essential oils, face masks, intentional social media breaks, hikes in the forest, getting a massage, acupuncture… All of these activities are wonderful expressions of self-care, and I love them. I participate in these activities and feel great doing so! I feel so grateful when I nourish my body, mind and spirit with these pleasures.
But come on, sometimes we don’t have time for all these acts of self care. I definitely agree! As a caregiver I think that self-care is actually more simple than that.
Caregivers are individuals who are responsible for another human, responding to their basic needs, emotional support and protecting their quality of life. Caregivers have a lot on their plate and booking a massage or applying a face mask isn’t always feasible.
Caregivers come in many shape and forms. There’s no one profile of a caregiver. When I think of a “classic” caregiver, I imagine a middle-aged child caring for their aging parent. However a caregiver can be a young child, making sure their parent is eating or taking their medication. You could be a professional caregiver for work. A caregiver can be someone caring for their sibling who struggles with addiction.
Personally, I am a caregiver to two family members with mental illness. I live 4 hours away, respond to emotional phone calls at all hours, send food, send money, and go down to visit as much as I can. A visit looks like supporting basic needs of cleaning, getting groceries, supporting with paperwork, finances, errands, and so on.
Whatever it may look like, caregivers need to take care of them self first, in order to be available for their loved ones.
Here are just a few tips that I have learned that help me be the best caregiver I can, without burning out (although this still happens…it’s a marathon not a sprint!)
1. Prevention — I live by always making sure my future self has it easier. I follow this by ensuring I eat well on the daily, consuming whole clean foods, avoiding coffee and cooking from scratch and staying VERY hydrated. I take vitamins, adaptogens and probiotics. I make sure I am as healthy as I can be to support my immune system and manage stress. As a young adult I used to manage my stress by partying and trying to forget about “my other life”. This was not productive to my healing or acceptance of my life-long role as a caregiver to my family members.
2. Movement —- I love to move because it’s important to my mental health. After a particularly stressful phone call or visit, my desire is to lay on the couch for hours and binge Netflix. I definitely use this as a way to de-stress but I make sure I do some movement while watching the tv. Sometimes it’s a deeply nourishing child’s pose or sometimes I do jumping jacks to release energy. I find walks with some music or a podcast a great way to detach, and personally I find Yoga incredible healing and a way to trigger my parasympathetic nervous system to relax my body. Sometimes my movement looks like laying on the floor with my legs pulled into my chest. Whatever your movement looks like, enjoy it, breath through it and allow yourself to become present in your body.
3. Routines —- even amidst chaos, something that is predictable within my family structure. I make sure I have routines. Since I live in a different city than my family, visits are intense. I get hit with a dose of reality everytime I enter the city and my anxiety levels begin to rise. Something I have learned is to make sure I have routines so I can find some enjoyment while visiting home. For me, this is getting healthy meals and a hot beverage (matcha latte!) from my favourite restaurant. Even though it’s out of the way, I know that I can get what I enjoy, and I can seek a break when needed. This routine could look very different depending on your situation. It could be grabbing a slightly-too-expensive drink from your favourite coffee shop on your way to visit your parent in a long-term-care facility, or making the same meal every Friday night that you absolutely love. It could be taking the long-route to the drugstore to pick up medication, or playing your favourite song in the car before walking into the house (to get geared up to face your reality!). I also ALWAYS bring my vitamins (consistency is key!). Especially vitamin c — vitamin c depletes very quickly during times of stress. I take vitamin c throughout the day (I love vitamin C sprays) so make sure my immune system is being supported. I’ve struggled with a low immune system for years and I find this practice very helpful.
Just a few tips that I have found helpful. I like information in small, manageable doses. If you want more tips, leave a comment or contact me!
You’re doing great out there fellow caregiver! I see you!
It’s a hard hard job, so take care, be kind to yourself + remember to hydrate!
* Photo from Audrey Kitching