This is quite possibly the hardest thing for a caregiver to do. And it varies from one to another. However, it is the most important thing we can do for ourselves. If we do not take care of ourselves, who will? And who will take care of our loved ones if something happens to us?
You must take care of yourself.
I have hard an incredibly hard time doing this over the years. As a caregiver, guilt gets in the way. Why should I take time for myself when my loved one cannot do anything for him or herself?
You must. You must take care of yourself to stay healthy; physically, mentally and emotionally. If you are healthy, you can care for your loved one to the best of your ability. When you are not healthy, your loved one will suffer.
So… how to do it?
First, stop making excuses. ‘I don’t have the time!’ Yes you do. In order to take care of yourself, you do not need a lot of time. You just need to make the time. To start off, take ten minutes. Ten minutes to stop and just breathe. It doesn’t have to be at a set time during the day. Just stop and take the time.
My favorite breathing exercise was taught to me by my yoga teacher. It’s called the Bee Breath or, for those who want to be fancy, Bhramari Pranayama. Essentially, you make humming noises. I usually relax my jaw but have my teeth touching. The humming noises cause a vibration that feels and sounds cool.
- The website I found says to “Sit up straight in a quiet area with your eyes closed. Keep a gentle smile on your face.” Or, you can do what I do and find an empty conference room at work and sit with your back to the door in case someone walks by and looks in. Or even do it in bed. Just find some alone time since you’ll feel silly at first.
- Place your thumbs on your ears on the little piece of cartilage between your cheek and ear. Cover your eyes with your fingers.
- Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out, hum like a bee (hmmmmm….) while gently pressing the cartilage. You can keep the cartilage pressed or press it in and out with your thumbs while humming.
- Breathe in again and continue the same pattern for 6-7 times.
I find that if I’m doing something while breathing (humming, feeling the breath on my lips, feeling my abdomen go in and out), I’m able to tune the world out and clear my mind easier than just sitting quietly.
Now that you know how to breathe when stressed, start taking longer stretches for yourself. Go for a short walk around the block. Take a quick nap. Go sit outside for half an hour. Watch an episode on DVR that you’ve been meaning to watch for weeks. Take the time to do something you want to do and your emotional state will thank you. But do it alone. Breathe. Do not get up and take care of anyone while taking this time. It is your time.
Once you have taking short periods of time for yourself under your belt, get out of the house. With a friend. Go to the movies. Go for a drink. Go out to dinner. Go to the park. It doesn’t have to be each week but I recommend doing it at least once a month. If you cannot get out of the house, have someone come over. But during that time, do NOT and I repeat, do NOT take care of your loved one. Unless he or she needs around the clock care, take the time to be with your friend and relax.
And then the hardest one. Treat yourself to some time away. For a night.
This is obviously the hardest thing to do for any caregiver, at any age. Obviously this can only be done if you have backup. But if you have backup, then do it. If you have backup, trust them. If you don’t trust them, they aren’t your backup… Take a night to yourself. A night where you do not have to help anyone eat, help anyone get to bed, help anyone in the middle of the night. Give yourself a morning where you can sleep in as long as you’d like and eat breakfast whenever you want. Take the time to take care of yourself. It will require a lot of planning but it can be done.
You deserve it.