The Urgent Need for Self-Care – Who Takes Care of the Caregiver?

I was one of the last ones to board the plane (with unassigned seats, I might add) as I traveled to California recently to care for my father. There were only middle seats available at this point, so I chose the one with two ladies who were slender enough to only occupy their own seat.

“I am happy to sit here today,” I said breathlessly as I situated my backpack under the seat in front of me.

“You are going to be sorry you sat by me because I HATE flying. I get so anxious,” she replied on the verge of tears.

“Then I am in the perfect seat because I am praying for you right now,” I said as I grabbed Beverly’s hand. (Name has been changed.)

She started to pull away but then said quickly, “I guess prayer can’t hurt.”

“Father, thank You for placing me in the exact seat for today’s hope assignment. I am thankful for my soon-to-be new friend and for how we will be able to share hope, peace and joy. Give her peace as we take off and land today.”

For some reason, the woman sitting on my left (who we will call Kimberly) did not make eye contact. She reached for the airlines’ magazine as we prepared to take off.

The flight attendant launched in to the standard speech about the oxygen mask but added a different spin to it by saying, “If you happen to be traveling with little ones you will have a tough choice to make if the oxygen mask drops due to a potential emergency. The most important part to remember is PUT YOUR OWN MASK ON FIRST. Then, and only then, choose your favorite kid and put their mask on.”

She got our attention and we listened for a few seconds then went back to what we had been doing. In the same way, most people ignore the need to put on their oxygen mask before caring for others. Self-care is critical.

Beverly informed me that she had suffered a nervous breakdown after taking care of her Mom and Dad in their last days of life. Her mom died quite suddenly from lung cancer. Her Mom had cared for her father who had dementia. After her mom’s death, she made the painful choice of placing him in a full-care facility. Then her beloved cat died.

If you are caring for a loved one you are part of over 44 million individuals living in the United States. The statistics matter little when you are one of them. You just know that you never really signed up for this club. The need is there and so you agree to fill it. As time goes on and the needs become greater, it can feel like an endless process where weariness overtakes you. It can feel like you have no choice and your family’s dynamics can get complicated.

For many, the caregiving responsibilities are added to a full-time job and other responsibilities at home with children and grandchildren. These statistics don’t show the great personal sacrifices and adjustments you’ve made as you assumed a role you never really chose in the first place.

We spoke the rest of the flight and I was able to share my journey as a caregiver. As we landed, I asked Beverly an important question, “If you could have given your younger self some advice about the caregiving journey, what would it be?”

“I would tell myself to take better care of myself. I tried to carry it all and am still paying the price three year later,” she said with sadness in her voice,

5 Starting Points to Self-Care

Catch some rays

Schedule time outside to soak in some Vitamin D from the sun. Research shows also that being outside in a green space can restore your mood.

Ask for help

Make a list of ways people can help you and remember to refer to is when someone says, “How can I help?” They offered to help, so let them do so. One of the most important ways to ask for help is to make sure you keep your own doctor’s appointments.

Rest well

Good quality sleep can make a huge difference in keeping you well and sane. When possible, consistently go to bed early (before 11 pm). It can be tempting to use evening hours to have time for yourself, but you will pay for it in the morning.

Exercise every day

One of the best free exercises available to you is to walk for 20 minutes every day. Walk quickly enough to get your heart rate up and enjoy going outside (see #1).

Splurge a little

Make sure you keep your hair trimmed and/or get your nails done. It can be easy to skimp on your own needs. Budget time to do something you enjoy as well.

If you are a caregiver, remember to to put on your oxygen mask first. CLICK TO TWEET