Happy New Year Sojourners!
Now is time for resolutions and new beginnings. As you start another year on your caregiving journey I want you to make a resolution to make caring for yourself a higher priority. In Part One of Caregiver School I outlined the 6 essential steps to stress free caregiving. And for this year I want you to make Step 6, Caring for the Caregiver, a higher priority. I promise you that if you get this step right then everything else will fall into place.
Start with Step 6
Caring for the caregiver is sometimes the most difficult step to take – especially not at first. In my steps to stress free caregiving I listed this one last because that’s the priority many caregivers place it in their lives – so you probably wouldn’t have paid attention to it if I did place it first. But I am telling you today that this is really the first step to reducing the stress of caregiving
In my psychotherapy practice, I regularly see clients who are overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. Many like yourselves, who are struggling to get through the day, week, and month just to get it all done. And I will tell you what I tell each of them – that when you learn to take care of yourself first then you are better able to do what you need to do. There is not only wisdom but also science behind those “pre flight instructions” on the airplane “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you help someone else”
It is only when we are able to manage our anxiety, stress, depression, grief that we can think more clearly and solve problems more effectively. When our stress and anxiety are under control we are more alert, focused and better able to anticipate and proactively solve problems. While under stress we will tend to miss some early warning signs and end up reacting to a crisis.
So how do you make caring for yourself a priority when you are already juggling all of these other priorities and responsibilities? You start by giving yourself permission. I always encourage caregivers to not just read but to embrace the Caregivers Bill of Rights. These statement of rights, written by Jo Horne, can be found in every book, organization and website that help caregivers. It is time that family caregivers know and do what professionals have been practicing for years which is the importance of taking care of yourself first so you can take better care of others.
The Caregiver Bill of Rights is a list of nine affirmations that every caregiver should live by in order to provide the best care for their loved one. For today I would like to focus on the four that I think most caregivers struggle with on a daily basis. In my experience these are the ones that most caregivers don’t allow themselves to follow.
I Have the Right:
“To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness.
It will give me the capability of taking better care of my loved one.”
Every caregiver knows that when you are healthy, well rested, calm and feeling strong you are much better caregiver. Getting enough sleep, exercise and taking time for yourself will help you be more focused and energized to better mange the challenges of caring for another. The problem is that most caregivers don’t think they have the time to take care for themselves. Make this a priority and you will find the time.
I Have the Right:
“To maintain facets of my own life that do not include the person I care for, just as I would if he or she were healthy. I know that I do everything that I reasonably can for this person, and I have the right to do some things just for myself.”
It is so important that you remember that you are more than just a caregiver. Some of you have jobs and are involved in outside activities that give you a break and allow you to just be you. And most of you probably feel guilty about these moments of reprieve. Some full time caregivers don’t think they can take the time away just for themselves. Caregiver guilt will sabotage a healthy attitude and create unnecessary anxiety and stress. Don’t lose yourself in your caregiver role. Know that you are more than this one aspect of your life. It is important that you continue to be a whole person, having many facets to your life is what makes you interesting, unique and a much better caregiver.
I Have the Right:
“To get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally”
Feel your feelings and release them so you can move on. Giving yourself permission to feel negative feelings and to talk about them allows you to release them. You can love the person you are caring for and not like the job of being a caregiver. It is not only OK, but it is important for you to acknowledge the anger, fear, sadness and grief you feel about your circumstances. It does not take away from any of the good and positive feelings you experience. It is important to be aware of all of the feelings you have and to find a safe place to express them. Find someone to talk to, a close friend, a support group, a pastor or a therapist. Find someone safe and objective, that will listen with an open mind and heart and cast no judgment.
I see many caregivers in my counseling practice who come just for that reason – a safe place to vent, where there is no judgment or criticism, a place to say, “this is hard and I don’t like it at all!” In our session, they are the focus of the care and attention for just a little while. Then when they leave they are better able to refocus on their loved one again.
I Have the Right:
“To reject any attempts by my loved one (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt, and/or depression.”
I recently observed first hand what a challenge this can be for caregivers. I watched as a caregiver bravely left the assisted living facility as her loved one pleaded with her to let him come home. He of course is too disabled and doesn’t understand or remember that he needs more care than his wife can physically, mentally and emotionally provide. I know it breaks her heart every time she hears it and how long it has taken to convince herself that she is doing the right thing. Her guilt has had her second-guessing her decision many times. But she has learned that caring for herself is just as important as caring for him. And she learned that she not only could but also has the right to do both.
So in 2018 make a resolution to do both.
Care for your loved one AND care for yourself too.
I hope you found this helpful
Please be sure to send me your comments and questions.
And until next time – take care of yourself and know that there is
…help for the journey