What Is Your Self Care Love Language?
Updated: Aug 15
When someone says "relationship" do you immediately think of "with yourself" or "with someone else"? More than likely it's with someone else. A relationship with someone else is external and we get to let ourselves off the hook it it doesn't work out. There is someone to share the blame for the breakdown with. Relationships with ourselves requires work. It's the one on one that some of us find very intimidating. We are our own friend first and we aren't always attentive to the needs of that friend. We will neglect that friend sometimes to take care of someone else's needs. Some of us may have been "today years old" when we found out we should know our intimate partners, family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers Love Language. Knowing our own? Whew. Requires some intimate work.
Depending on how we were shown examples of self care during our formative years, some of us may have difficulty figuring out what it looks like. Let's say we have no idea what self care looks like. According to Dr. Kristen Neff one of the main components of self care is "self compassion" . Dr. Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research says, "self-compassion involves self-kindness and self-awareness. This means recognizing and accepting negative feelings as well as positive ones. Another way to say this is that self-compassion means recognizing and accepting our own humanness—which means, by definition, that we are not perfect."
As Mental Health Family Caregivers we endure a great deal of stress and unpredictabilities while supporting a loved one. Many things are out of our control. A loved one with an unmanaged, and sometimes a managed illness can create a lot of stress and anguish. Studies show the amount of stress that Caregivers endure has been linked to chronic illnesses, some of them causing high mortality rates amongst us. One being diabetes. Research links high levels of stress to type 2 diabetes. According to a review from the European Depression In Diabetes:
"Interestingly, stress has long been suspected as having important effects on the development of diabetes. More than 400 years ago, the famous English physician Thomas Willis (1621-1675) noted that diabetes often appeared among persons who had experienced significant life stresses, sadness, or long sorrow (Willis, 1675). One of the first systematic studies testing Willis’s hypothesis was described in 1935, by the American psychiatrist Dr. W. Menninger, who postulated the existence of psychogenic diabetes and described a “diabetic personality” (Menninger, 1935). Almost thirty years later, P.F. Slawson et al. described in the Journal of the American Medical Association that 80% of a group of 25 adult diabetes patients gave a history of antecedent stress mainly in terms of losses, 1-48 months prior to the onset of diabetes (Slawson et al., 1963). However, this study had several important limitations, including a very small sample size, a retrospective, uncontrolled design, and a high risk of selection bias. More recently, numerous studies have been performed, elucidating the role of emotional stress as a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. The majority of these studies focus on depression. However, there is growing evidence that other forms of emotional stress contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes as well."
Understanding our individual needs are important to our health and well being. The more we know about who we are as an individual, separate from the loved one we care for, the more empowered we are to make the most impact in our lives.
Self Care is more than a term or a trending topic, but how do we know what type of self care we need? There are so many social factors that impact our lives right now. COVID19 keeps us up in arms daily as we await more news on when we can get back to regular socializing and stepping outside of our homes. Some caregivers may be experiencing unemployment as a result of the pandemic.
There's the issue of civil rights and police brutality too. Our news feeds and daily news breaks are saturated with more news about "murder by officer" or marches where unarmed and peaceful protestors are being attacked. Black Mental Health Family Caregivers are experiencing additional layers of stress due to systemic and structural racism. Studies show racism has long lasting impacts and can cause trauma. All of these outside influences in addition to the responsibilities we face in our own personal lives, including caregiving, increase our exposure to stress exponentially. A limited number of places to go outside of the home due to quarantine means additional stressors as well.
How do we find the best way to self care?
Knowing your Self Care Love Language is important. Think of the "5 Love Languages" (Words,Time, Receiving Gifts, Physical Touch, and Acts of Service) except you're not focusing on your relationship with someone else. Your focus is on what brings you contentment and joy. Sitting down to write down exactly what it is you find pleasure in isn't as easy as it sounds. As previously mentioned, self compassion isn't always as bountiful. Radical Self Care is required for some of us. As a Black Mental Health Family Caregiver we come face to face daily of the reality that our life may not be as valued, as it is to us, to those who subscribe to white supremacy. Navigating the world outside our homes, and now due to innocent Black People being murdered in thier home while sleeping, or playing video games with their family members; we are full aware that our destiny can be determined by an individual weaponizing police officers in our communities or while we navigate outside them. Who do we call if we need help with a loved one in crisis? It can be very disconcerting.
There is a certain level of commitment we must practice in order to stay the course of doing the work required to heal and bring ourselves relief. It requires a good amount of self discipline and an intense dedication to our well being. The more information we have, the more informed our decisions are.
Using the 5 Love Languages we can create an effective self care plan for ourselves. It may look something like this:
Words - Books could be an option, so reading, or listening to audio books may be something you find relaxing or reduces your stress. Listening to guided meditation. with Podcasts on your favorite topic is another option. Word puzzle apps. Journaling. What other forms of words could you use?
Time - Setting an alarm to take a break from working or caregiving. Asking a family member or a friend to help with, or paying for someone to do a chore or errand you don't enjoy. Meal planning so that you don't have to spend time cooking(can be especially beneficial if your loved one or you have a special diet). Taking a day off work to rest, or leaving a loved one with a professional caregiver, a family member or friend.
Receiving Gifts - What if you mailed off packages to yourself to be delivered at your workplace or home of very special items you picked out for yourself on tough days. Auto-ship of your favorite products is another option. Creating a goody box that you only open on tough days. Buying flowers for yourself.
Physical Touch - A massage. A hot bath or shower. Rubbing on your favorite lotion or oil you purchased specifically for "relaxing". Fuzzy slippers or clothing. Weighted blankets or loose fitting clothing(you would be surprised how much of an impact tight or binding shoes and clothing can have). A pedicure or manicure.
Acts of Service - Delegating chores or caregiving duties you find difficult or stressful to other family members, friends, or a professional. An example may be driving a loved one to a doctors appointment during rush hour, and having to search for or pay for parking. Taking a cab(rideshare) or asking a family member or friend to drop you off instead could reduce a lot of stress. Using a laundry service or asking for help with laundry from family and/or friends. Asking family or friends to come over to cook for you and your loved one and store the food in containers in the fridge. Negotiate with a partner, family member or friend on doing chores or services you don't enjoy.
The goal of Self Care is to alleviate the affects of stress on our minds and bodies so that we give breaks to our "fight or flight" systems. We have a good deal of energy that goes into the care and management of another individuals health and weal being, meaning we may not always be the priority. Making our self care a priority is looking out for our best interest and it’s the highest form of self compassion.