How Can You Care for Yourself While Caring for Others?
I just had a crash course in this when I visited my parents in Sheffield (UK) for two weeks in January.
A bit of background – my mum has Alzheimer’s and has deteriorated a lot since I last saw her, and now needs help with things like getting dressed. My dad is 94, frail, hard-of-hearing, and house-bound.
They have care-givers who come at various times throughout the day to help with meals, taking medications, personal care and companionship.
While I was there I took on the role of care-giver in chief!
It is not a role I recommend.
I am in awe of people who do this day in day out – either as a profession, or out of necessity and love.
It seems to me it is critical to take care of yourself well when you are caring for others in this way. And yet, when immersed in the care-giving situation this is difficult. It’s so easy to put the needs of those being cared for above everything else, including your own needs.
So – how did I look after myself during my visit?
Imperfectly, to say the least.
This, however, is what I did every day as a crucial part of my own self-care:
- Every morning I did the “Ease Cycle” – a modified version of a practice developed by Alexander Technique teacher Mio Morales that promotes release of tension and more ease in body and mind – AND, it takes less than two minutes to do!
- Every afternoon I did Constructive Rest, if only for a few minutes sometimes.
- Each day I would take a walk outside if possible. Walking and moving in the fresh air is so beneficial to me. Some days this was a short walk down to the local shops and back, some days a longer walk – quite invigorating because of the hills in Sheffield! Unfortunately, the weather (snow and ice) made even a short walk challenging during the first few days of my visit.
- Each day I also shared in my Facebook group, the BodyIntelligence Community, one thing I was grateful for, and one place in myself where I notice ease. Some members joined me in this practice, and it was helpful to read what they shared, too.
- Each night I would watch a show on Netflix in bed! This may not sound like “self-care” but having the opportunity to just “chill out” and escape with a show on my own was something I looked forward to every day. Fortunately for me, mum and dad have an early bedtime of around 9:30.
As well as these daily practices (for want of a better word), visiting with friends was also an important part of my self-care and well-being. Fortunately, I have a couple of close friends who live nearby, and who I was able to see quite often, even if only for a short time.
While there I was definitely emotionally vulnerable and what you might describe as hyper vigilant – on the alert for problems. It was a state that invited a LOT of excess tension.
As an experienced Alexander Technique teacher, I was very aware of this – especially when I’d been triggered. While I couldn’t always do something about it immediately, I did, however, have REALLY USEFUL tools to help lessen my stress responses and recognize what was going one. Knowledge is definitely power.
One particularly useful tool was that of being able to bring my attention to somewhere in my body that felt relatively at ease – it’s what you practice in the Ease Cycle, and is very useful in the moment, especially if I used this idea BEFORE a potentially difficult interaction. This is a practice and a skill I teach all of my clients.
Another very important part of my self-care in this situation was practicing self-kindness and self-compassion and recognizing when “shoulds” and self-criticism had slipped into my thinking. With awareness – and practice – I was able to give myself permission to be myself and feel whatever I was feeling.
And finally, the support of others was invaluable to me – the support of friends, both in person and around the world via email, text, and phone.
I knew I was not alone.
I hope that sharing the things I did to support and care for myself is helpful to you.
If you’re in the situation of being a care-giver for your parents, spouse, child, or other family member or friend, how do you support yourself? DO you, in fact, take time to look after your own needs?
We need to be our best selves to be able to care for our loved ones to the best of our abilities and make important decisions with a clear head. Putting ourselves first in this situation can be hard – maybe sometimes impossible. It is, however, worth working toward. We, and our loved ones, will be all the better for it.
Image © bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo
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Thanks very much for this. I just skimmed it at the time, thankfully enough of it stuck. You know that implicit expectation that tomorrow will be roughly like today? My mum fell and broke her hip late at night. My autopilot gets on with the job, but I tend to forget about eating and so on. When your post came to mind I cancelled some “must do” commitments – of course people are very understanding- which gave me some space. She’s in hospital now which is at least more predictable. The tough stuff for me right now is not the physical caring, but imagining myself in her shoes. And forward planning for how to manage after the op.
Thanks for another really caring post.
I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. I think one of the most disconcerting things for me in the whole situation, which you too may be experiencing, is the role reversal. The fact that YOU are imagining yourself in her shoes, and planning (or imagining) how to manage later, is the complete opposite of our relationship with our mother as a child – and probably for many years after – for most of us. It’s extremely disconcerting and discombobulating. Know that your mum is very lucky to have such a caring son – to have you. I’m glad my post could offer you something at this time. I wish your mum and speedy and good recovery and all the very best to both of you.
Many years ago when I first started having lessons my Alexander teacher said to me “you can care too much” !!! At first I had no idea what message he was trying to get through to me, many years later I laugh at how out of touch I was with myself. Your blog reminded me of his wise words, I continue to learn something new about myself after each lesson, thank you Imogen.
Hi Karen. Yes, I understand exactly what your Alexander teacher was getting at. I’m glad my blog could serve as a reminder of how far you have come! Caring without “caring too much” – that’s what we’re after! 🙂
I suggest adding a addendum to this blog – in which you give a link to the Caregivers Network that you now host and developed in response to this life experience. I think this would be a GREAT way for me to share this with clients – to invite them to read your blog and within that they get the information about the group.
Thank you so much, Victoria. I am making a note to do just that when I get home from the UK. In the meantime I’ll just put the link to Caregivers Central here: https://caregiverscentral.net