3 Secrets of Self-Care while Caregiving

by Guest Contributor Angela Andiorio We have all heard the saying, “You can’t make everyone happy,” but still we strive to make those around us happy by being the best caregiver, spouse, friend, or parent.  The fact is the only happiness we have any control over is our own.

Participating in our favorite activities increases positive feelings. While  reading a captivating book we can become totally absorbed only to realize four hours have passed!  While at a party, we can marvel as we part ways at how quickly “time flies when we’re having fun.”

These moments can be healing, therapeutic and deeply nourishing to us, but unfortunately, we tend to put these moments for self-enjoyment aside when we’re faced with stress.  Self-care is one of the first things we tend to let go of when we’re under pressure to balance caregiving tasks, a career, and other obligations.

There seems to be a stigma associated with self-fulfillment even though we’ve already discussed how therapeutic it is.  No one wants to be thought of as selfish or self-absorbed.  We’ve probably all heard the voice in our head saying, “It’s not fair to leave my spouse alone while I go off and have a good time,” or “I don’t have free time, I barely have time to do what I need to do each day.”  You can imagine coming up with a hundred different scenarios depending upon the situation.  So how can we best care for others without sacrificing our own happiness?

In today’s post, I want to offer up a few secrets that will be especially helpful to all caregiving relationships.

Secret #1: Think non-traditional activities!

Leisure doesn’t have to mean a trip to a ball game or golf course, expensive tickets to the opera or even a week’s vacation to the beach.

Some activities of our everyday life can give us meaning and purpose.  Raking leaves, folding laundry or organizing a drawer might give us a personal sense of accomplishment or pleasure.  Drawing a hot bath, taking a stroll , or quietly sitting and observing nature might be a way to nurture our bodies, minds and spirits.  The best part is that these highly beneficial activities are easily worked into our schedules without a lot of advanced planning, resources, or time.

Get creative and begin to notice where you find leisure in your daily life.  Recognizing that these activities resonate with you will give your body a signal to relax, slow down and savor the moment.

Secret #2: Discover (or Rediscover) what makes you tick.

Maybe you’re spending an hour watching TV each night only to feel unfulfilled and bored afterwards.  Perhaps you’ve spent 15 minutes browsing others’ Facebook pages during your lunch break and you still feel unrefreshed.

If you find yourself here, ask yourself what you are seeking.  Do you have a social need that isn’t being met?  Would it feel really good to be outdoors and connect with nature?  Is your body aching and calling for movement and stretching?

As you start to tune into what you need, your choices of activities will naturally begin to take on a new shape and you’ll begin to take care of yourself in a new way.

Secret #3: Live each moment fully alive by practicing mindfulness.

In a world where constant feedback from emails, social media and text messages are the norm, how can we stay focused and undistracted?

It’s easy to tune out during interactions with the people around us.  Practice being present with your spouse, partner, care-recipient, best friend, co-worker.  Actively listen and engage in what they are saying to you.  Give them the gift your full attention and presence.  See how communication can improve with this simple practice.

- While in a Yoga class or meditation session, watch your mind.  Does it wander to your list of things to do?  Do you find yourself replaying the day’ past events in your head?  Gently give yourself permission to let this go with each and every breath.  Give yourself the gift of your full attention and presence.  Maximize this time with yourself by recharging your physical and emotional batteries.

- So often we put up walls to keep out aliveness.  Pop in our headphones, obsessively check our cell phones, or simply stay in our heads, effectively cutting out parts of life.  Stay in tune to the world around you.  There’s so much to sense in your environment; the sight and smell of lilac bushes in bloom, the chorus of birds singing sweetly, the feeling of the breeze blowing your hair.

With some personal observation, you might find yourself able to make some changes in your life so you can live more fully alive.  Just by simply noticing, you’re already making a shift in your awareness.

All of these secrets will help you to take care of yourself organically, really tapping into your needs.  This seed of self-nurturing will grow into an abundance of energy to use towards caring for others.

Angela Andiorio is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) through the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification and Pranakriya Yoga Teacher.  After working for over 10 years with older adults and their family caregivers in various health care settings, she discovered a missing piece of the health care system puzzle:  Who would provide care and training to caregivers who often put their personal well-being on the backburner?  She founded her private practice, space & time, with the mission of empowering caregivers to make healthy leisure choices that will recharge their batteries, reduce stress and lead to a more enjoyable work/life/caregiving experience. Website: http://www.spaceandtimeconsulting.com/ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/spaceandtimeconsulting