Brenda Lyle – Florida Today
Q: Why does “self care” matter if I’m a caregiver to someone else?
A: When we travel on an airplane, we all get the briefing on emergency procedures. It includes the instruction to “take your oxygen first” before placing the mask on another. People struggle with this idea, because it seems contrary and selfish to the caregiver role. It is NOT selfish. It is critical.
When you are a caregiver, your world is on your shoulders. It can extract a toll physically, emotionally and sometimes financially. Often, caregivers have little control about the role they find themselves playing: nurse, financial manager, household manager and social worker. However, some control is possible with self-care.
Self-care is the group of positive things you do for yourself to stay physically and emotionally healthy. It varies from person to person. A good self-care regimen includes healthy eating, getting enough sleep and exercise and minimizing stress. Other important aspects of self-care are discussed less — setting self-actualization goals and caregiving boundaries.
First, visualize who you want to be; as a person first, and a caregiver, second. “I want to be compassionate” is an example of a personal and caregiving goal. Second, consider what obstacles might hinder this goal. “I am angry my husband is sick and I have to be a caregiver.” Clearly, anger can affect your ability to be compassionate. That’s okay — find a healthy way to express the anger. Exercise, pray, keep a journal, color with red crayons, sing at the top of your lungs in your parked car. Do whatever it takes to relieve yourself of that anger.
Now, draw healthy boundaries to reduce your anger. Are specific caregiver tasks creating your angry feelings? Give those to someone else. Hire a private caregiver or ask a friend to help you out with that task. The point is to create reasonable boundaries that reduce the likelihood of anger and resentment. It might simply be, “I will give myself five minutes every day for quiet reflection.” Then stick with it. “Occasional” boundaries will not give you the mental fortitude you need. You must exercise self-care, in an important way, every day.
The holiday season can make self-care more difficult for caregivers. Don’t over commit to social events because you feel it’s “expected.” Try not to do anything (eat, drink, shop) to excess, which could sabotage your self-care plan. Give yourself permission to simplify traditions to fit the realities of caregiving. And if you are caring for someone with dementia or Parkinson’s disease, consider joining a support group at One Senior Place. Remember, you must take your oxygen first.
One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to AskOSP@OneSeniorPlace.com, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.
Brenda Lyle is a Certified Care Manager and Certified Dementia Practitioner with One Senior Place, Greater Orlando.