By Dr. Toni Alvarado
Especially as women of color, we tend to lack self-care and put ourselves last. We give, and give, and give, and only give ourselves the crumbs of what is left. I understand as a caregiver, what is on your mind right now. “When is the next medical appointment?” , “When is mom’s next dose of medication?”, “ I need to make sure to get an appointment with that specialist ASAP”.
I understand that these things need to be done. But take a brief pause and focus on yourself for a few minutes. It is important to make sure we stay healthy mentally as caregivers, being that we are most susceptible to burnout, depression, and feelings of guilt. I also understand the emotional drain of managing very divergent feelings of joy and sorrow, excitement and fear, the anticipation of a bright future, and dread of what the future will bring. As someone who lives, breathes, and advocates for self-care, I would love to share some strategies that have personally helped me during my caregiving journey and I pray that it helps you as well.
Self-care starts with self-awareness
Being aware of what you are feeling, whether it is joy, frustration, doubt, loneliness, or fear is the first step. Being transparent with yourself on how you are feeling can lead to solutions. For example:
- I am feeling lonely. I need good times and fellowship with close friends.
- I am feeling overwhelmed. I need to seek other options such as external part-time care.
- I am feeling happy! I would love to sit down with my mom and watch our favorite movie together.
- I am feeling depressed. I need to schedule a session with my therapist.
When you are aware of your feelings, you are now in a position of power to address them. This is how you take control of your self-care when you feel like your life is spiraling out of control.
I have found comfort and meaning through my travels. It has given me space and opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and to seize opportunities to be refreshed and healed. Perhaps that is something different for you. However, it is important to find that thing in life that gives you meaning and peace and make the time to do it.
Take care of yourself mentally
The mental health of caregivers is vital. Many caregivers experience mental burnout, dysphoria, and difficulty in processing the mental drain that accompanies the care of a loved one, especially in cases of sustained illness or trauma. I have found therapy to be vital in processing the grief of losing the life I once enjoyed with my loved ones due to their illness, physical limitations, loss of memory, and the anticipated passing from this life. I highly recommend that caregivers engage the services of a therapist, mental counselor, and caregiver support groups.
Take care of yourself physically
I say this with love and personal experience as I have dealt with a personal diagnosis of Graves disease which propelled me on my health journey. Once I took deliberate action to take care of myself, it was transformational for my health. I want this for you too! Keeping yourself in optimal physical health is a great tool to stay in a good headspace. Daily exercise also produces endorphins that can positively affect your mood and mental capacity, and spirituality. Physical health is transformational for your mind, body, and soul!
Take care of yourself spiritually
Staying aligned spiritually is also an essential part of self-care while being a caregiver. This is why being a part of a community of faith is a great way to feed your spirit. Morning walks in nature are also a great way to align spiritually with God and his beautiful creations. Incorporating prayer and a devotional routine to stay encouraged is also great for building the spiritual stamina needed to navigate your journey.
Learn to Accept Help (In any form!)
God is the source of our help and we should always seek Him first. However, He also puts special people in our lives that can act on his behalf to support us. Sometimes we become so focused on places where we expect help, that we forget that help can also come from places we least expect.
Help can come from the church member who is also a nurse and is willing to care for your loved one in an afternoon. Help can come from the neighbor who brings you a hot meal after a long day. Help can come from a friend who is willing to share a ride to the doctor to be supportive. This is the beauty of God’s grace!
As we enter into this new year, I urge you to prioritize self-care. Learn to overcome the guilt of self-care and accentuate your well-being as you care for others. Take care of your mind, body, spirit, and soul. Live fully, love deeply, and laugh heartily.
On the self-care journey with you,
Continue to follow our caregiving blog series at https://www.drjeanneporterking.com/blog.