• La Shawn Wilburn

Self Care Hacks for Mental Health Family Caregivers

“If you celebrate your differentness, the world will, too. It believes exactly what you tell it—through the words you use to describe yourself, the actions you take to care for yourself, and the choices you make to express yourself. Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation who came here to experience wonder and spread joy. Expect to be accommodated.” ― Victoria Moran, Lit From Within: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty

Are you tired of hearing about “Self Care” and “Taking A Break” posts and blogs? I hear that often from Mental Health Family Caregivers who complain it takes too much time. I had one of my caregivers actually become belligerent when I suggested taking time out for herself every day. She didn’t have family to help but there was a nurse who came by to give her mother medication and physical therapy and because her mom told her she didn’t want to be left alone with the nurse in the house, she stayed while the nurse took care of her mother for the last 8 years. When I asked why the mother didn’t want to be left with the nurse, the caregiver didn’t know why, just that she didn’t want to be left alone.

That is normally the case, a caregiver will not want to argue or have an uncomfortable conversation with their loved one, so instead they just keep doing what is working. What’s working for your loved one may no longer be working for you the caregiver. Isn’t part of the success and quality of care you give to your loved one depending on your ability to give it to them at this point? If you are unhappy or feeling overwhelmed you can’t possibly be giving good care. Your loved one can feel the resentment whether you want to admit it or not.

How Can You Care For Your Loved One & Still Make Room To Care For You?

When you realized you were going to be caring for your loved one you more than likely started making changes in your household, finances, and other life modifications. Your concern was making them as comfortable as possible, to have them know they were not alone and you were there to make sure they were well cared for right? If your loved one moved in with you there was the preparation for a room and other accommodations for them. If they lived with you there was the purchasing of necessary things needed to modify or accommodate their new diagnosis. Somehow during that process you left you out. You forgot about your needs after placing them on the shelf for so long. Don’t beat yourself up, it’s a mistake every caregiver makes. Yes I called it a mistake because we think making ourselves smaller and our needs nonexistent we are doing a service to our loved ones, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here are some Caregiving Hacks to get you on track:

Make Your Spirituality a Priority – Going through the trials of mental illness is a very difficult journey and one that can wreak havoc on your mental, emotional and spiritual reserves and if you don’t rebuild them you can wind up well spent and weighed down. Prayer is a good way to connect with God and ask for help and strength to get through your caregiving journey. Meditation lets God talk to us and ensures we are quiet enough to hear and experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. Carving time out of your day to meditate and be mindful are good ways to stay “powered up”.

Create A Place To Go For Yourself – It doesn’t matter if it’s a room you convert in your garage, a reclining chair in your bathroom, a hotel room, or a tent in the campground you need a place to go when things are too heavy. Studies show peace and quiet is healthy for us. It allows the brain to repair itself. Having a do not disturb sign and turning of all ways for anyone to contact you for short periods is more than okay. You should not feel guilty for not wanting to be bothered. You do an awful lot and deserve to “shut down” every now and then.

Maintain Outside Social Connections – It is so important to have someone else to talk to outside of your loved one. You need social connections that are not about caregiving and you need social support that is about caregiving like caregiver support groups. Both of those forms of social interaction are healthy and very necessary for you to cope with your caregiving duties and to maintain a quality of life for yourself. Going out to a movie or to lunch with a friend or enjoying a bingo night with your caregiving group is a good way to keep your spirits lifted and can also provide the emotional and moral support that you may not get from your loved one you are caring for. Many times caregivers can find themselves starving for human interaction outside of their loved ones and neglect to set the time aside for it. That is a disservice to you and your loved one. It leaves room for resentment and guilt about the resentment.

Eat – So many of us caregivers get nervous and lose our appetite. We get by with Coffee and a nibble here or there but we need to have healthy meals throughout our day, making sure we are including vegetables and water to drink as well. Our bodies are very much like a car. If we put in bad fuel we get poor performance, the same applies to our bodies. Keeping healthy food choices in the house means when you are ready to have a meal its good stuff in there.

Go To Sleep – When you have a chance to go to sleep do that. Take a nap, go to sleep at night instead of sitting up worrying about what is coming or what is going to happen. Do your research, keep records, take the trainings, and know whatever is happening if you don’t have control over it trust God is with you and your family and you will make it through whatever it is.

Remember what you do is very stressful work and requires you to adapt to the many emotional ebbs and flows of your loved one and that can be draining. Your dedication to making yourself a priority is of the utmost importance. Not caring for you puts you at risk to become physically ill yourself and if you are not able to take care of your loved one who will? Imagine the stress if you haven’t prepared them to stay with someone else or to have someone to come in and care for your loved one. It’s better to make the sacrifices up front, deal with your loved one being uncomfortable for a short period of time and adjusting to someone else stepping in and caring for them so that you can have the opportunity to rest and enjoy some things that allow you to have a quality of life.

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