A Little Self-Care Goes A Long Way
- By: Maricruz Ferrari LCSW
Caring for our loved ones can be exhausting, and there’s no reason to feel guilty or ashamed about it. Exhaustion has nothing to do with how much we love them; it only means we’re human and we inevitably get tired. The caregiving routine could be overloading our body, mind or soul. Acknowledging this fact could make a significant difference in the way we perceive and manage our self-care. The problem when we don’t recognize our need for rest and respite is that exhaustion can turn into overwhelming feelings that eat up our little heart. We might be able to repress those feelings successfully for a while, but eventually, it catches up with us. Unsurprisingly, with enough time we will find ourselves dealing with guilt, resentment, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, isolation, etc.
Life brings constant changes that force us to alter our roles as they relate to those we love. Having an older or disabled parent, a sibling going through a harsh diagnosis, a husband who got into an accident or simply, fulfilling the desire to become a parent, can cause a significant disruption in our routine and daily responsibilities. Usually, in the beginning, we take our loved one’s care as a champ, we put on our superhero’s cape and get to work. Time starts passing by, and we often feel exhausted as there are not enough hours in the day to take care of everything and everyone. Yet, we remind ourselves who we are doing this for and how much we love them and keep moving forward. Without even noticing, we fall into autopilot. Every day looks like the one before, and we only look forward to the short breaks we get in between the chaos.
People struggle with admitting that they need a break from their demented parent, their demanding sick husband or their hyperactive child. Sometimes none of the previously mentioned applies and we just need a break from our healthy parent, our loving husband and our fantastic child. Sometimes we need to remove the caregiver’s hat for a moment and be us. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, nothing is wrong with wanting time for yourself. Actually, the more you practice regular self-care, the less likely you are to fall into a pattern of frustration and anger.
A few years ago, I was covering the emergency room at my workplace
when I received a call stating a family member wanted a patient to be hospitalized even though there was no medical necessity. The patient was a gentleman in his 90s, who surprisingly enough was fairly independent with his care. However, due to his vascular dementia, he needed constant supervision for safety. I walked into the ER, and there was the patient’s daughter sitting next to him, falling asleep. I could tell right away she hadn’t gotten much rest recently. I softly called her name, and she immediately woke up. I introduced myself, and she quickly engaged in the conversation. She stood up and rapidly became angry; she demanded that her father be admitted for further care. I listened to her concerns without interrupting. Once in a while, I would reassure her that I was listening and understood her concerns. As our encounter progressed, she started running out of steam and all of a sudden, she sat down, her voice lowered, and tears started running down her cheeks. She proceeded to tell me how exhausted she was and how her family expected her to care for her father 24/7. She was so hard on herself thinking she was failing her father and family every time she tried to take a minute for herself. The guilt, the sadness, and resentment were evident in her words
and body language. Once she entirely calmed down, we discussed the importance of self-care and how to advocate for herself. We also talked about resources available in the community to provide respite for families in her situation. By the end of our conversation she felt relieved, hopeful and empowered. She, on her own, decided it was time to return home with her father.
Months later I had the opportunity to see her at the hospital again, and she was like a different person. She seemed more relaxed, rested and at ease. Although it took her some time to get support in place, she managed to get other family members to be involved in her father’s care. She also connected her father with a daily program that gave her the chance to free up her mornings. She admitted to struggling with feelings of guilt when she decided to move forward with the program. However, she quickly realized it was the best decision for her and her father as they both benefited from brief separations and their interactions with other people.
As a parent and caregiver, I have learned that regular acts of self-care can give you the right ingredients you need to remain a balanced caregiver. It is no secret that the healthier we are physically, mentally and spiritually, the more effective we will be in caring for those we love. When there’s balance in our lives, we are better parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends, etc. Define self-care for you. Explore resources in your community to see what respite programs are available based on your situation. Ask yourself what are the things that help you stay in that magical space that gives you the energy you need. Some people reenergize through exercise, meditation, spending time with friends, having someone to talk to, having their nails done, getting a massage, going on a walk, watching a movie, etc. Some people need a combination of all of the above. Try to find a way to incorporate self-care into your routine. Love yourself! The more you do, the easier it is to love others.
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Maricruz Ferrari is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has worked in healthcare for multiple years. During the most recent stage in her career, she has provided supportive services to people at the end of life journey. Along the way she has learned there is a significant unawareness in the community about end of life choices. It is often people go through intensively difficult medical experiences due to lack of knowledge. Maricruz wants to create more awareness over end of life issues and choices with the purpose of helping people be more prepared for the last chapter in their physical lives. Maricruz’s email address is email@example.com