By Andrew McCallum
If I were to ask you, “What does self-care mean to you?”, does your mind immediately wander to bubble baths, a couple of glasses of wine, massages, long lazy lunches, a day at the spa…? Or do your eyes glaze over wistfully as you think, “I wish!” As much as those luxuries would be welcome in most of our lives, we know they aren’t realistic and achievable – except, perhaps, as an extra-special treat.
The term ‘self-care’ suggests it is about ‘self’. But in context of caring, it is anything but.
As a carer or parent, you’re on-call 24/7. The responsibility is enormous and the stakes are high. But what happens when the carer or parent becomes sick or incapable of providing the care? This is every carer’s worst nightmare.
Think of yourself as a cup.
Sometimes, you feel your cup is empty. Your resources have been drained and you feel you’ve nothing left to give. That’s when the guilt kicks in – when you realise you’re not Superman or Wonder Woman, but feel you ought to be.
On the other hand, sometimes you feel your cup is full and running over; not with the milk of human kindness, but with stress and worry and chaos and challenges and that ‘just-one-more-thing’ you suddenly find yourself having to cope with.
So, what do we really mean when we talk about self-care? And how can we achieve it with everything else that’s going on?
Self-care is about keeping enough space in your cup so you can deal with the tough stuff that inevitably comes along when you’re a carer, without that cup being overwhelmed and running over.
Self-care is about finding small ways creating that little bit of extra space that will make you a little more resilient, a little bit stronger for the person you are caring for.
Self-care is not about you. It’s about the person you’re looking after.
Of course, it sounds really simple – and it isn’t simple.
But the first step is. The first step is just to give yourself permission. The first step is to say to yourself, “Okay, if I don’t have space in my cup, then I’m not going to be as much use as I want to be and need to be to… [the name of the person you’re caring for].”
So, actually, doing things to create that space is not selfish. What you’re doing is creating space to be able to care for the people you care for.
One of the best ways to do that is to have people around you. It’s important to have people who can help look after you, listen to you offload, provide another perspective, share their experience and knowledge with you, and maybe even help you shoulder some of the workload.
Keep in touch with your friends. Even just a five-minute natter on the phone can make all the difference.
Find a network you can join. Ask other carers or parents to find out if there’s a carers group in your area. Many groups and charities, like Little Miracles, have family support workers or volunteers who organise and support carers groups and other activities that help create the space you need.
If you have internet access, join carers networks on social media. In times of stress, it can be tremendously liberating and reassuring to know you’re not alone. A friendly supportive tweet can make all the difference – to other carers as well as to yourself. Sometimes ev well-timed med cat video from Youtube can make all the difference!
Mindfulness is another great way of expanding that space within you. ‘Mindfulness’ is just a fancy name for paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you. When you’re a carer, you can easily find yourself rushing through life without stopping to notice much. Mindfulness is about pausing, just for a minute or so, and reconnecting with yourself.
Take a five-minute walk outside and stand in the sun (or rain!). Stop. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Focus on your senses. What can you feel? What can you hear? What can you smell?
Sit down for five minutes. Listen – really listen – to a favourite track from a favourite album.
Have a potter in the garden. Tend a pot plant.
Have a quick snuggle on the settee.
There is no right or wrong way to mindfulness. It’s about what works for you and the opportunities that come your way in your life as a carer.
Stop and think about your day. Where is there space? Where are there opportunities for some ‘you’ time?
Are you still at the ‘guilt phase’, perhaps? Then get over it! Taking some time to build your resilience pays dividends to the person you’re caring for.
However you do it, just do it! Please, please… take care! – and if you’re not sure how or need a bit of a nudge then please give us a call on 01733 262226.