“To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.” – Jill Bolte Taylor
I know another self-care blog and admonition when we barely have time to sleep let alone take a break or do something we love right? We mean well, and if you ask a caregiver the reason why they are not taking regularly scheduled breaks it’s rarely about a selfish reason, it’s just not part of who a caregiver is. We pride ourselves on providing the best care, we brag on the effectiveness of our care demand schedule and have it all down to a science. Burnout however is always looming for us caregivers who fail to include “help” in our care demand schedule.
How do we implement a care demand schedule that includes self-care and regular breaks for ourselves? We take the time to plan out a workable plan for ourselves regardless of the amount of extra time it requires from us in the beginning. I tell caregivers to invest in the time up front and you don’t have to worry about it coming back to bite you in the face later. Trust me the hardest part is setting up the time and people in the beginning. Once you have the template the next round is easier and before you know it you are doing it with ease.
The key to a successful Self Care Plan is to understand you need one first of all. Here are 5 steps to get you started:
Get An Accountability Partner or Partners
The reason so many caregivers fail to have a self-care plan is because it’s easy to get overwhelmed by our daily obligations to our loved ones and our families. We can fall into the trap that it’s just easier to do “it” ourselves. Enlisting the help of family or friends early on ensures you have someone there to help you to put together a plan and stick to it regardless to how much you fight not to. You need a family member or friend who is going to stay in your face about adhering to a self-care plan and who is not afraid to push the issue should you resist.
Depending on the level of care our loved one requires we may need outside help or specialist, and our accountability partner can help us to brave that process. Having someone in a neutral position helps to bring a sense of level-headedness to the equation. Sometimes we can be so emotionally involved we miss the subtle cues or read too much into the basics and sometimes wind up overcomplicating a very simple process. Having someone who can think without the “emotional fog” means we can make the best decision for both our loved one and ourselves.
Resilience, discipline, and determination are important traits for our accountability partner (bold) if our accountability partner has a tendency to fold under pressure from us then we may need to seek out a family member or friend who won’t back down when we bare our fangs. There is nothing more intimidating than a caregiver who has decided to do it all alone and begins building walls to keep out any intruder.
What Does A Self Care Plan For You Need To Look Like
Each caregiver and loved one has their own personal and unique set of circumstances. Our loved one may require very little assistance from us but when crisis hits everything can fall into chaos in very little time and can sometimes last for extended times. We may have a loved one that requires medication management and assistance with paying bills and other domestic duties in their home, or our loved one may require hands on care around the clock. Whatever the case the self-care needs for the caregiver are dependent upon the level of stress and pressure the caregiver must endure while caring for the loved one.
What is the level of stress that is too much for the caregiver? What is a great stress reliever for the caregiver? Does self-care require a weekend getaway or a long walk in the park to decompress? All of these questions and more are what helps the caregiver to construct an effective self-care plan.
Think about your week, what does it entail? Are you working full time in addition to caregiving? What about transportation for your loved one or yourself? How does income play a role here? Self-care can be as simple as having a cup of coffee in the morning alone in a quiet place in your house before your day starts, it can be meditation before your day starts, it can be sleeping in late on some days, those are some of the modifications that can be done with little assistance from someone else, outside of sleeping in late which may require the assistance of another individual to care for your love one so that you can sleep in.
What about when your loved one is experiencing negative symptoms of their disorder or illness, do you know what a breaking point is for you? Try deciding at what point you will like to have a break before the crisis happens and then set up a schedule for persons who can help to make your plan a reality if the need arises for your loved one to require more of your time to care for them. Take notes during your journey and make sure to include how you feel during those times that way you can discuss with your accountability partners and support team how they can best implement and assist you. I tell my husband, “if you see me doing this insist I take a break and don’t take no for an answer…” and he has helped me to keep me out front and self-caring. We need people who are not afraid to stand their ground with us.
Decide What Self Care Looks Like To You
What are some things you would like to do in order to recharge or just to rest? You should brainstorm and write some things down and then decide what is realistic. Here are some examples of self-care:
Nice and quiet walk in the park
Reading a book on your Kindle
Listening to music with your feet up
Go for a bike ride, hike, or a soak in the jacuzi
Read your bible or devotion
Go and listen to your favorite band or a live band
Crochet or Knit
Take a painting or sculpting class
Join a cooking class or buy a cook book and learn new dishes to cook
Take a nap
What’s important is that you feel refreshed after whatever activity you choose. You don’t want to choose something that drains what little energy you have left. You want to build reserves for yourself and the best way to do that is to incorporate things that bring you comfort and joy.
Create a Care Demand Calendar & Include Your Self Care
It’s difficult enough keeping up with the care of our loved one and their doctors’ appointments, add to that our own personal obligations and commitments and it can be a difficult thing to attempt to manage two separate calendars. Merging the two helps to keep you committed to your self-care as well because you can’t look at your loved ones care calendar and not see your self-care appointments as well. This is the part where your accountability partner comes in. They can write in the daily commitments to self-care and set reminders for you or even call you to ensure you are staying committed to the schedule.
Keep Aiming For A Perfect Score With Self Care
As with anything you want to last it takes replenishment and refreshing. You will not always be on the mark with your self-care. Sometimes things will happen that may throw your schedule off, but you must be committed to getting back into a rhythm again. The longer you take to get back to your self-care schedule the more in danger you come of neglecting your self-care until burn out.
The moment you miss your self-care time go into your calendar and move something around to ensure you have a break or get to do what you enjoy. As much as your accountability partner is there to help you they cannot help you unless you want to help yourself.
Keep going and keep trying eventually it becomes second nature and the guilt goes away and you began to recognize the importance of taking care of you first.
Ultimately what has to happen is we need to acknowledge our need to rest and to give up the idea that we are the only ones who can provide quality care for our love ones. At some point we will be forced to take a break and someone will have to care for our loved one. It's better to take action before we get to that point.
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