Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--The Tricky Business of Self-Care

Why is it so hard to look after ourselves?

We all know we should. We can hear our mother's voices expounding the litany of advice we loved to ignore. "Eat your vegetables. Dress warmly when you go out in the winter. Get enough sleep. Don't eat junk food. Exercise." And if our mothers didn't tell us, advertising, social media, and a hundred other voices will. We know all these messages are important. We know we should, and we feel better when we do.

So why don't we?

The question becomes less rhetorical for a group of care partners. I recently asked several wives who are caring for their husbands, "Why do we even talk about self-care? Shouldn't it be obvious?"

Their answers made a lot of sense. "It is obvious. But it's not just the time that it takes to care for a loved one, because even when they are being cared for by others, I still struggle with looking after myself. That's because my loved one is in my head 24/7. When I am not with them, I am thinking about them. In the night I wake and wonder if they are sleeping or wandering. During the day, I need to pay the bills and get the taxes done and all the other tasks that used to be for both of us. Sometimes when I do something just for me, I feel guilty, because I have left them alone. It's like I need permission to care for myself."*

I get that. A wise person once said to me, "Ann, if you were half as kind to yourself as you are to others, your life would be so much better." So, yeah. I get it.

Why do care partners experience stress? This may seem like an obvious question, but there is more than one answer.

  • Because we care. Even if our loved one isn't a spouse or a close family member, we care. That's why they invade our brains in the middle of the night.
  • Because being a care partner matters. Doing it right matters.
  • We were told to get our work done and then have fun. Except the work is never finished, so the fun seldom happens.
  • Because we care, and we want to do a good job, we often aren't good at setting boundaries. We may even feel that a boundary is wrong.
So here's the bottom line. 

Are you listening?

This is important. Crucial, even.

Look after yourself or you won't be there to look after your loved one.

"A study of family caregivers found that those who experience care-giving related stress have a 63% higher mortality rate than non-caregivers of the same age." 1

It's a scary statistic. As a care partner, it's essential that you find ways to cope with your stress and look after yourself, or you will die first.

Take this as your permission. Take the time to cook a healthy meal, go to a concert or out with friends, take a vacation, read a book. Each day, do something that gives you peace and nourishes you. Plan days away, vacations, nights out.

And when the voice in your head or the voice of your loved one or any voice makes you feel guilty, remind yourself of the words of that wise person I quoted--"Be half as kind to yourself as you are to others."

*a compilation of 30 minutes of conversation.

Care Partner Wednesday--The Tricky Business of Self-Care


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