Self-care: A Work-in-Progress Zone!
As the autumn leaves start to turn, it’s a good time to take stock of where things
stand, and think about how you can wrap up the year with a positive feeling.
In my own case, I was recently thinking about how much effort it takes me to stay on track with my self-care. Specifically, I’m feeling like the prolonged pandemic has
taken a toll. I’m not as physically strong as before, and I think my flexibility is more
limited as well. My emotional state is more up-and-down these days. Perhaps you
are feeling the same about the impact your caregiving responsibilities are having on your health and wellbeing!
With the average time for caregiving being much longer for Alzheimer’s and
dementia caregivers (at 5~9 years compared to those caregiving for loved ones with other conditions), the pressures the prolonged pandemic have only intensified the need to proactively protect your health and well-being. Yet when pressures build, shortcuts are attractive and it’s natural for things to slip. Important things, like getting enough sleep! Or eating healthily. Or taking a short walk in nature.
Create Your Own Personal “Best” Self-care Formula
In truth, finding your own personal “best” self-care formula is a long-term proposition – with the goal being to evolve over time a self-care approach that works naturally with your lifestyle.
I come from a family of women who basically “don’t stop until we drop.” That means we drive ourselves way too fast and far before we stop to take care of ourselves. As a result, I’ve had to re-boot my own self-care efforts several times in my adult years because I waited way too long to address the situation. I’m embarrassed to tell you I still pay the best attention to my self-care when I’m under duress or have a health issue that forces me to do something differently!
In my work with caregivers, I lead month-long challenges in which we explore different avenues of self-care. I’ve learned that self-care improvements move forward best when you:
Make a commitment and set your intention
Choose some easy (yet effective) ways to show yourself you care
Anchor and layer your self-care actions
All of these points are even more important when you are caregiving. And no one can deny that the prolonged pandemic has derailed staying on track with self-care - whether you are officially caregiving, or not. Certainly, for caregivers, the road has only become rockier.
Self-care Takes Focus and Attention
Two things I can say about self-care: It takes continuing focus and attention … the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” comes to mind. I’m sure my own self-care is better than it was, say, 10 years ago. But it could still be much better! My tendencies to overdo it and slip on meeting my self-care goals (which are pretty modest!) are well in place.
It is never, ever over. I wish I could tell you differently! But life has a sneaky way of interrupting your routines and throwing you off balance, and before you know it, you’ve compromised to your own detriment.
Another thing is also for sure … Nurturing your own best way forward with your self-care is a very personal and individualized endeavor, and it takes time and experimentation. For me, finding my best self-care formula has become a lifelong pre-occupation. As a starting point to re-assessing my own self-care recently, I read through my self-care goals from January. I saw that while I’d made progress, there were still gaps. My three big goals were:
Go to bed earlier (1:00 am curfew). YES! I’ve done great with this and it’s so much better than before.
Get more movement into my daily life with (at least) one 10-minute walk per day, three 30-min walks per week, two one-hour yoga classes: NO! This was way too ambitious for me, and I’d only managed the 10-minute walks.
Increase volume of “enlightening inputs” with (at least) 5x per week reading, listening, or watching something that provides a new perspective: KIND OF. I’m more aware of the opportunities, and have started slowly but surely incorporating new sources and inputs into my daily life. But I’d say I need a good bit of work here.
Knowing how important it is to stay focused and not overload yourself, I vowed to
work on my goal of getting more movement into my daily life, starting with walking. It's a bit cooler, so more viable! I’m so happy to tell you I’ve done three 30-minute walks per week for three weeks straight now, something that’s been on my list all year. Now I feel cheated if I even THINK about not doing it. I realize it’s the bare minimum, but it’s a start!
Forgiving Yourself For Not Having Superpowers Is Critical!
Regardless of where you are in your journey of self-care – and of caring for your loved one - make an active decision to cut yourself some slack.
With self-care, the point is to nurture your body, mind, and spirit so you can pro-actively bolster your immune system and prevent health and other problems before they can take root. Maintaining your own health and emotional balance while caregiving is not only good for your care receiver – it’s an important part of ensuring your own future physical, mental and financial health.
You don’t need to be perfect. You can gain ground little by little over time by recommitting to your own self-care, including: getting adequate sleep, eating healthy foods, getting at least 10 minutes a day of body movement, carving out some time for yourself, and reading-listening-watching something enlightening.
The prolonged pandemic has further heightened the need for exploring a self-care formula that works for you and your specific caregiving situation. Caring about your own health and emotional balance through self-care - even though it takes both attention and intention - is a proven strategy for better coping through difficult times.
What small steps can you take in these last few months of this year to help you finish your year feeling better than you do right now?
Remember, it doesn’t have to be difficult - or even take much time - to up your game on self-care. And it’s never too late to start! Like saving for a rainy day, your investment will pay off long-term!
Five Steps To Help You Get Started With Self-care
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request your free:
One-page self-assessment questionnaire
List of 31 easy self-care ideas
Do the quick self-assessment of how you’re doing in each of the five basic self-care areas:
Good nutrition and hydration
Regular body movement
Time for yourself
Zero in on the ONE area where you feel you could use improvement.
List up one thing you could do every day that would get you one step closer to your goal.
Take that one small action every day - until it becomes a regular habit for you, just like brushing your teeth!
Author, Speaker, Founder
AMI and TheCaregivingJourney.com
Debbie Howard is a former caregiver who served as both long distance and live-in caregiver during her Mom’s dying days in South Carolina, while running her Tokyo-based market research consultancy.
With the launch of AMI and TheCaregivingJourney.com in 2016, Debbie combined her caregiving experience with her 40 years as a communications and market research pro to support caregivers in navigating their caregiving journeys with more grace and ease. especially when it comes to self-care.
Today, she leads workshops and blogs on this topic, and helps companies develop programs to support their employees in balancing their caregiving responsibilities at home with their work.
Her book, The Caregiving Journey: Information. Guidance. Inspiration, is available on Amazon.