When you’re in the trenches of caring for your loved one, feeling overwhelmed and stressed, being told to “take care of yourself” can feel like just one more thing that is out of reach, one more item to add to an overburdened to-do list, one more area to feel like maybe you can’t measure up.
What if you feel like you have nothing left to give yourself because you’ve already given it all away in caring for your loved one?
Self-care isn’t about “indulging” or “pampering” yourself, about glasses of wine or bubble baths, though that’s all lovely. It isn’t even necessarily about taking breaks that your loved one can’t be left alone for. So many self-care suggestions can trigger a “That would be nice, BUT…” kind of response, feeling like it’s all too hard or even legitimately impossible.
Self-care is more about recognizing that you also need care. That YOU still have needs, even as you’re pouring out every last ounce of love and energy on your loved on. It’s not an indulgence, it’s a necessity. You can’t pour from an empty cup, right?
Self-care begins with how we think about caring for ourselves. Where do we need to change our perspective to get closer to getting care for ourselves while taking care of someone else? Here are some some self-care strategies that are more about your mindset than about a to-do list of activities to make you feel good.
Ask for help - If nobody has offered, don’t let that stop you from asking. Sometimes we think we don’t want to be a burden or “If they wanted to help they would have offered,” but you don’t need to be responsible for their yes or no. They are adults and can say no if it’s too much of a burden or if they don’t want to.
Let others help - “It takes a village” doesn’t only apply to the raising of children, but to ALL of life. You might think “But I’m the only one that knows how to do this” or “He’s MY husband, so I should do it”...but it’s worth letting go of our need to control or our guilt that we should be the one doing everything. If someone offers help, take them up on it! If they’re offering something you don’t need help with, substitute something that would be useful to you. “We’re okay on meals right now, but if you could come sit with Mom for a couple hours on Saturdays, that would be a huge help.”
Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend - We are so much better at offering others kindness and compassion that we don’t give to ourselves. When you’re having a hard moment, think about how you would talk to a friend in that circumstance. If a friend was struggling with asking for help, what would you say to them?
Give yourself permission to feel how you feel, to think what you think, to ask for help, to hate parts of caregiving, to take a break, to lower your standards, whatever it is you need to do to get through this difficult season.
Banish guilt - Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. In any given moment, you are doing your best and that’s all you can do. It’s okay that you can’t do it all or do it perfectly, that sometimes other people will be upset with your choices or maybe even you will be upset with your choices. It’s okay. You are doing your best.
Recognize that slogging through the day, barely hanging on in survival mode doesn’t mean you’ve failed - Slogging and surviving are often the hallmarks of resounding success. It doesn’t have to be pretty...you’re doing it, and that’s the main thing.
Embrace imperfection - It’s okay if you can’t get everything done. It’s okay if it can’t get done the way you’d like. It’s okay if life is messy and difficult...it doesn’t mean it’s not also beautiful at the same time. You are only human and you have limits...as hard as that can be to accept!
Be intentional and proactive about support - Self-care is a discipline, and intentionally turning our minds to our own needs takes practice and effort. It’s often too hard to do it alone, and it can help to have other people holding you to self-care and also providing care for you...either friends, family, a support group, a therapist, a pastor...who is in your village?
Changing how you think is an act of self-care. Do you see any places where you can shift how you look at your situation? Are there ways it seems like you might get stuck? Where are you already stuck? How can I help?