John J. Diak, CFP®
Self-Care for Caregivers
You Can’t Fill Someone Else’s Cup When Yours is Empty
It goes almost without saying that women tend to take on the role of caregiver whenever the need arises. As moms, daughters of aging parents, aunts, sisters, and friends, women are often the ones who take care of everyone else, typically putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Someone has to do the fixing, cleaning, driving, cooking, and all the things that need to get done for growing kids, ailing loved ones, and friends in need of support -- and it’s usually a woman.
This is not to say men don’t work incredibly hard too, but when it comes to caregiving specifically, it’s usually women who take on the brunt of these responsibilities. And while many women take great pride and find fulfillment in their role as a caregiver, it can also leave them both physically and emotionally drained.
How to Practice Self-Care for Your Body, Mind, and Soul
Taking care of loved ones can put a strain on your body. Whether you’re bending over to bathe little ones, helping your elderly parent out of bed, operating on a few hours of sleep, or doing a load of laundry for your neighbor with a newborn, the physical toll of caregiving can really wear you down.
Remember, your health is just as important as everyone else’s, so treat yourself well.
Take Care of Your Body
Get proper nutrition. You can’t survive on lattes, Diet Coke, and a few bites of your kid’s chicken nuggets and expect to operate on full throttle. Getting proper nutrition gives you the energy to keep going. Eating balanced meals with plenty of protein, veggies, and healthy snacks will get you through the day with some extra pep in your step.
Take time to exercise. You might think because you’re running around all day and rarely get to relax that this is enough activity for anyone. But sitting in a carpool line or doctor’s waiting room will not get your blood pumping like exercise. No matter how busy you are, schedule some time for working out. It will help relieve stress and boost your energy.
Get enough sleep. It might seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it is possible to improve your sleeping habits and get better sleep. Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. Limit caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. Exercise during the day. Keep electronic devices away from your bed. Curl up with a book, chamomile tea, use aromatherapy, and play calming music. It might take some practice, but making simple changes can help you get a good night’s sleep and improve your energy during the day.
Your appearance matters to you. Remember that taking care of how you look directly affects how you feel. Whether you go to the spa or pamper yourself at home, be sure to take care of your skin, hair, and nails whenever you can. It’s not just superficial; a fresh manicure and pedicure, haircut, facial, or massage can give you the motivation and confidence you need to tackle your next challenge.
Take Care of Your Mind
When you’re a caregiver, it’s critical to take care of your own emotional needs and wellbeing. This starts with working on your mindset. Your mindset is the set of beliefs that orient how you handle situations. It’s the way you sort out what’s going on in your life and what you should do about it.
If you have a negative mindset, you’re looking at situations through a negative filter and may get overwhelmed by self-defeating thoughts about how things never seem to get better. On the other hand, if you have a positive mindset, you’re able to look on the bright side and clearly see how to manage challenges. It’s perfectly normal to flip back and forth between positive and negative outlooks, but you’ll need to work on establishing a positive foundation for the sake of your overall well-being.
Start by taking time to breathe. If you never slow down long enough to relax and appreciate the moment, you will constantly feel like your senses are being bombarded with noise, clutter, and stress. Throughout each day, close your eyes and take deep breaths to get centered and calm your nervous system.
Say “no” when you need to. It doesn’t matter who is asking--kids, friends, your spouse, siblings, or parents--remember, “no” is a complete sentence and it’s okay to say it. If what you’re being asked takes time away from what’s most important to you, you don’t have to do it. You get to set your priorities. This might seem easier said than done until you get into the practice of doing it, but it’s possible and you will feel better the more comfortable you get with saying “no.”
Ask for help and accept it. You can’t do everything yourself and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Whether you ask for more input from other family members or you hire someone to help as your budget allows, getting support when you need it is essential to your emotional health as a caregiver. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t even try.
Take Care of Your Soul
When you’re taking care of others, never forget that life is meant to be lived. Your soul is the essence of your being--your lifeforce--and if your soul is weary, you don’t have much left to give. That’s why it’s so important for women as caregivers to feed their soul every day and remember why they do what they do.
Feel your emotions. When we’re bogged down in the grind of our responsibilities, sometimes we find ourselves feeling numb or “dead inside.” There’s a good chance you’re trying to protect yourself from feeling sad, angry, or disappointed. Instead, let yourself feel it all and own how you feel. Stuffing down our feelings or allowing ourselves to feel disconnected only makes matters worse.
Enjoy life. When you’re changing diapers and cleaning up messes, it’s easy to forget all the ways we can experience joy in the moment. Look up at the sky, have a good laugh, and indulge yourself in whatever feels good and is good for you--whether it’s planning a fabulous vacation or simply watching old episodes of your favorite show, find ways to experience joy every day.
Follow your dreams and your passions. Just because you’re a caretaker doesn’t mean your dreams and passions have to take a permanent spot on the backburner. Sure, sometimes your career may slow down a bit or you’ll have less time to devote to painting or tennis or singing in the church choir. But never lose track of who you are and what you want to do outside of taking care of others. You might have to make some adjustments, but you can find a way to stay true to your dreams and honor your passions in some way no matter what.
Love passionately. If you’re someone who is taking care of others, that means you’re an incredibly loving and caring person. Own that and embrace it because not everyone is able to love as passionately as you do. From loving your baby’s giggles to loving the way your sister tells a great story to loving the sparkle in your husband’s eyes, don’t hold back. Feel the love and let it grow; it’s what will carry you through more than anything and it’s good for your soul.
Just because you have caregiving responsibilities doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for your own self-care. You don’t have to ask permission to take time for you. Schedule self-care with the same sense of urgency and priority as you do everything else and make it part of your routine. While you're at it, show your children that it's okay to make their health and wellness a priority. They will learn by watching you care for yourself and others that they deserve self-care too.
John J. Diak, CFP® is the Principal & Client Wealth Manager at Oatley & Diak, LLC in Parker, Colorado. He assists clients through many difficult lifestyle changes such as business downturns, retirement planning, divorce, the death of a spouse, and family estate issues among others. Oatley & Diak, LLC is a family-run registered investment advisory (RIA) firm that provides clients with investment management and financial planning services in a hands-on, intimate environment. Learn more about them at oatleydiak.com.