Caring for Yourself While Caring for Another: 6 Critical Self-Care Practices
At some point in your life, you may be called to accept the role of caregiver for a dear friend or family member. And when you do, will you be prepared to make self-care a priority?
My mom and I were very close and enjoyed a long and loving relationship for 55 years. When her health began to deteriorate, she moved in with me for support and care.
As an only child, I never questioned my responsibilities and was honored to help provide the quality of life she deserved.
Caregiving Is Highly Demanding
It was easy and uncomplicated at first, but as Mom’s conditions worsened, her needs became more demanding. You know the saying, “When it rains it pours.” Well, during this challenging season, not only was I teaching full time, but I was also confronted with my own health concerns that seemed to pop up out of nowhere.
At the same time Mom was transitioning from home to specialized care, I was experiencing a profound spiritual awakening that led to my radical transformation.
The work I’m currently doing through my business, Lifestyle 120 – integrative wellness coaching for mature women and motivational speaking – manifested because of the seeds I planted while caring for my sweet mother.
Reversing my own health challenges through lifestyle interventions occurred during this season of growth and expansion.
Regard this time as a blessing rather than a burden, for you will uncover things about yourself that you might never have discovered otherwise.
The Root of Caregiving Is Self-Care
Caregiving is a selfless act of love. If you are a caregiver or will soon step into that role, I want to wrap my arm around you! You’re awesome!
But know that you will never be fully prepared for what’s coming. And although your obligations can be overwhelming, you must not neglect your own health. It is imperative that you set your intention on being your best for the person you are caring for as well as for yourself.
Today, I’d like to explore six lifestyle commitments to include in your daily self-care practice that will help you thrive during your time of selfless service. I pray that by sharing the tools I collected from my experience, you will be inspired to invest in yourself while caring for another.
And one important overall tip: Create a schedule for your day — it will provide the structure you need to successfully maneuver through the many tasks related to caregiving.
What’s on your plate? Due to the added stress and responsibilities associated with caregiving, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy protocol unless you plan for it. So when shopping for groceries, fill your cart with wholesome foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes.
And don’t forget to add greens to your nutrition scheme! Twice a week, cook enough food to have leftovers.
It’s tempting to reach for chips, cookies, and soda when you’re stressed, but set an intention to avoid indulging in sweet treats and processed foods, for they can sabotage your health goals, sap your energy, and cloud your thinking.
If you are also preparing food for your loved one, focus on balanced meals and snacks that consist of healthy carbs, healthy fats, and protein.
Plan for Playtime
Why is exercise important? Maintaining a fitness regimen will not only help to keep your body conditioned, it’s also a great stress-buster.
One of the best decisions I made when I was caregiving for Mom was to purchase a gym membership and hire a personal trainer to support my health goals. It was one extra thing to add to my plate but extremely gratifying to watch my body transform.
During these uncertain times, gym membership may not be a viable option, but other regular movement choices are available to you.
Is it possible to take periodic fun, fitness breaks throughout the day with your loved one? Walk in nature, crank up the music and move and groove to your favorite tunes, practice yoga asanas, and follow along with an aerobics video.
Savor Sweet Slumber
How does sleep affect your performance? No other lifestyle shift is more critical than getting proper Zs. Sleep refreshes your mind and body.
Granted, your sleep schedule may be interrupted during the night due to emergencies, but if you plan to retire and rise at the same hour. This will allow your brain time to recharge. Your new habit: Establish a bedtime schedule so you can get the restorative sleep you need in order to be your best.
Relish Infinite Wisdom
Do you have a regular spiritual practice? If not, I invite you tap into your inner peace and knowing – your guiding force – whatever that looks like for you based on your experiences and faith tradition.
You will need your quiet time to connect to your higher self, practice deep breathing, and relish infinite wisdom. By establishing a more profound relationship with Divine Spirit, I received the love and guidance necessary to carry me through each day.
Sometimes, my bathroom doubled as my sanctuary. I adorned it with fragrant herbs and a meditation lamp and retreated there for five minutes to pray and recite positive affirmations. Or sometimes I would read a passage from one of my spiritual magazines.
After putting my mom to bed, I occasionally luxuriated in a healing bath. What’s remarkable is that my spiritual foundation grew deeper roots during this time and became the catalyst for my personal awakening.
Summon Your Support Team
You cannot do this alone! Who can you enlist to lighten the load while on your sacred journey? A brief, weekly check-in from a friend can provide the comfort you need. But be open to what your support team will look like.
As sole caregiver, I thought I was on my own because I was viewing “support” in the traditional sense. But I was not alone!
Even though I didn’t have immediate family around to ease the burden of the day-to-day challenges, God summoned a collection of special individuals who were instrumental in providing the emotional support I needed to get me through the most critical hours.
There were colleagues and nursing staff with whom I communicated daily. And the biweekly sessions with my personal trainer who was going through a similar experience, lifted the weight from our shoulders while busting our biceps.
Further, I am forever grateful for my cousin who coordinated the support services for my mother’s brother who lived in another state.
Recognize and celebrate all blessings that come your way!
Pursue Your Passions and Humor
What are your dreams? What are you doing to boost your brain power? Do not relinquish your passions! If you are sharing a home with your loved one, carve out chunks of time to pursue your interests, even if for a few minutes a day or an hour on the weekend.
Make time for an interesting seminar or attend an online event. And when appropriate, think of ways to include your loved one.
For example, watch an educational documentary together or read funny stories and riddles aloud. Even though your loved one may not get every joke, you are allowing yourself time to laugh and be joyful.
Through caregiving, you will discover a lot about what you’re made of. Everyone’s experience will be unique because of what you need to learn at this juncture of your life journey.
One big lesson I learned was to relinquish control over the situation, and once I did, I experienced overwhelming peace. I suppose I was selfish in wanting things to revert to the way they used to be – keeping the mom of yesteryears with me forever.
And I know that she hung on for as long as she could because she wanted to please me. In the end, I had to grant her permission to let go and will always cherish those incredible final hours.
I commend you! Sharing your time and love are gifts from the heart. But your health is equally important as the person you’re serving. In order to fully benefit from your season of caregiving, remember that self-care is essential.
Have you ever assumed the role of caretaker? How did you manage self-care? As caregiver, what important life lessons did you learn? What tips would you offer someone who is considering stepping into the role of caregiver? Please share them with our community!