12* Ways We Care for Ourselves During Caregiving

Denise
I often write about how much I can resent the advice that "I need to take care of myself" during caregiving. (Read: When I'm Taking Care of Myself Please Don't Tell Me to Take Care of Myself.)

I recently had a conversation with a friend about self-care during caregiving. During that conversation, I explained how I gained weight during a very stressful and intense 2015 and 2016. My friend immediately responded, "You didn't take care of yourself."

That drives me nuts. Because I didn't head off to weekly manicures or monthly massages, others may jump to the conclusion that self-care is missing. Not that spa treatments aren't wonderful. But, that's not the kind of self-care we practice every day.

I've created a list of ways we take care of ourselves during caregiving. Please add yours in our comments section, below.

1. Self-care during caregiving means we talk ourselves through incredibly stressful situations. We take a deep breath and step into situations that bring up our greatest fears. We do it every day.

2. Self-care during caregiving means we spend time with our faith. We turn to prayer to say thanks, to ask for guidance, to request the strength to continue.

3. Self-care during caregiving means we politely correct the health care professionals who offer suggestions that won't work because of practical, logistical or financial reasons. We repeatedly stand up for ourselves within a health care system which relies heavily on us while often working against us.

4. Self-care during caregiving means we calmly request help from services and programs -- over and over and over. We advocate for what we need within a system that's often not helpful or accessible or simple or friendly.

5. Self-care during caregiving means we forgive those family members and friends who disappear during the toughest times of our lives. Often, that forgiveness happens daily.

6. Self-care during caregiving means we let go of the frivolous because we choose the meaningful. Meaningful moments most often happen in private and sometimes may be overlooked by others who don't get it. But we don't overlook them. We treasure them.

7. Self-care during caregiving means we stay present with our caree during those tough times because we know we are giving ourselves a future of minimal regrets. And, during those tough times, we bear witness to a pain and suffering we often can't quite endure. Yet, we remain, fully present.

8. Self-care during caregiving means we vent in ways that feel right for us. We may journal in private or blog in public. We may do both. We may vent while driving alone in the car. We may vent while loading the washing machine one more time. We may vent in a community support group or an online chat. And, we may not vent to everyone because we know not everyone can understand it.

9. Self-care during caregiving means we give back to other family caregivers. We understand that in giving, we receive.

10. Self-care during caregiving means we show up to work because we need our careers, our paycheck and our benefits. And, many times, we arrive at work with a heavy heart and a suffering soul. We still gather the energy to put on our game face.

11. Self-care during caregiving means we sometimes just lay on the couch. We're tired. Sometimes we're so tired we can't walk another step. Couch time means we'll be able to get up tomorrow and face it all again.

12. Self-care during caregiving means we prepare for a future without our carees, which can test us in ways we can't describe. And, yet, we live with that reality, knowing we must prepare for those days. So, we begin to create a future during which we can tackle our bucket list while making a difference for others. We know purpose because of our caregiving experience. We plan to keep purpose throughout our remaining days.

*13. Self care during caregiving means we shed tears, sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of sadness and sometimes because of being deeply touched. We may cry when others don't expect it. We may cry when we don't expect it. But cry we do because we know tears heal. (I added this one a few moments after publishing the post.)

So, if you see a family caregiver who holds extra weight around the middle or who carries bags under the eyes, avoid making the diagnosis that self-care is missing.

What you see isn't lack of self-care. It could be lack of help. It could be lack of understanding. It could be lack of support. It could be a lack of financial resources. It may be all of that and more.

You are looking at a family caregiver dealing with the overwhelming and relentless stress of caregiving the best ways he or she can. You can minimize that stress by pitching in to help, by listening to him or her (and that's it -- just listen) and by thanking him or her.

I believe we do our very best to take care of ourselves during caregiving. Caregiving is a different kind of life, which is why self-care becomes a different type of exercise. Rather than assuming we don't take care of ourselves, take time to notice our git, courage and resilience.

I had a horrible 2015 and a challenging 2016. I'm here now, standing tall. Obviously, whatever I did got me to here.

We're holding on. And, that's quite exceptional.

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