I recall my grandpa stretched out on the family room floor. He was snoring. Grandma explained that the hard floor helped ease his back pain. We continued with our coloring books and board games while grandpa snoozed.
I added this reclining respite tactic to my repertoire when my kids were young. I birthed five children in the span of ten years. I was usually pregnant or nursing and always sleep deprived during that decade. Grandpa’s habit of going horizontal became my go to method of self-care. My supine body became terrain for toy trucks, or topped with a tiara, but I was present and relaxed until someone needed a feeding or pooped their diaper.
Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated if you start with self-compassion. Don’t make it another thing you have to do. Instead prioritize it as something you want to do just for you. Just do it. Start with sixty seconds of breath. Five minutes outside with your eyes closed. Three minutes marching in place. Planning has benefits, but the phrase “do or die” applies here because studies show 30% of caregivers die before those they are caring for because they neglect their own needs. That figure jumps to 70% for caregivers over 70 years of age.
Caregiving is physically draining and emotionally exhausting. Adding guilt to the mix produces a toxic concoction of cortisol and stress. Take a moment to lavish some of the caregiving skills you have mastered on yourself. Which of your caregiving duties do you wish someone would bestow on you? Which duties are most challenging for you? Allow others to help. Sign up for a support group. Group members understand firsthand what you are going through and will listen compassionately to your venting and share caregiving tips they have tried.
Wrap your arms around yourself in a helpful hug. Make a mantra of positive words to break the negative loop of thoughts circling throughout your psyche. Turn on some tunes. Take stock of the five senses and see what resonates with you. You may prefer tasty tea, an aromatic candle, birdsong, fuzzy socks or simple silence. Find a way to incorporate something pleasant into your daily routine.
The key is to pick one single solitary thing to focus on and do that. Nothing more. If it works, keep doing it, if not, change it. Developing new habits to a healthier you will take time. Take baby steps to better self-care through self-compassion.
Another important turning point is managing self-care when caregiving ends. The self-care routines you have developed may feel like they don’t fit anymore. It makes sense because life as you knew it has profoundly changed. You can expect that that self-care will change as well, but self-compassion is still where you start. Then pick one thing to focus on and don’t forget to move on if it doesn’t work any more.
In addition, when your caree passes there is relief mixed with grief. Gail Sheehy writes about her caregiver journey in Passages in Caregiving, Turning Chaos into Confidence. Her husband beat cancer four times. When his body eventually began breaking down, Gail wondered what her role would be after fifteen years of caregiving. “A part of me was dying, too.” Gail assured her husband that she would be ok, “What you’re leaving me is a world of people who have been part of our lives…You’ve left a part of you in each of them.”
My grandpa is gone, but his memories live on. I still drop to the floor sometimes to take a break in the middle of the day. Find your stop and drop space or signature self-care move. You deserve it.
Nicole Smith is an author, speaker and caregiver advocate. She is the NJ Circle Leader for Daughterhood.org, a support group for adults caring for aging parents.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract and “A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers.” Your Caregiver Relationship Contract is available in both English and Spanish. It explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems during caregiving. A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers explains how important it is to learn how your person wants to live their live out and how you, the caregiver is the most important person in this relationship, giving you tips and tricks for this journey.
Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract or here for the Spanish version: Su Contrato de relación como cuidador de un ser querido. Click here to learn more about A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call