Self care is too often overlooked, so its good to see you’re already here, reading about some of my self care tips. As a CEO, as a soon-to-be-mom, as a wife, as a friend, as a colleague, as the daughter of a strong mother who recently needed my support while recovering from surgery, my urge to help others can impede on my own need for self-care and become detrimental to both my physical and mental health. This was never more real than in the recent months spent helping my mom with her recovery.
When caring for a parent, your own needs can get tossed to the floor as easily as a low carb diet at the grand opening of a neighborhood bakery. But just like a diet, while it’s completely okay to lose focus for a couple of days, it’s important to get back on track quickly in order to maintain any semblance of health.
My daily life is hectic already. Between running the team at WayWiser and managing my personal and family life, I have my hands full. When I added in the care that I was giving to my mother, before I realized it, I was overwhelmed and anxiety ridden. After a few days of extremely limited sleep, I understood that if I wasn’t taking care of myself, there was no way that I could take care of my mom.
It was an odd realization to be completely honest. I spend so much time with the team here at WayWiser, working long hours, trying to develop tools for older adults to age with confidence and to help caregivers better understand the convoluted roadmap that was just plopped into their laps as their parents reached a point where they needed help with daily activities, that the thought of caring for the caregivers themselves went straight over my head.
I read about it all of the time, but it wasn’t until I was in the thick of it myself that I realized how taxing it can be to dedicate so much time to helping someone else. The time spent putting meals together for my mom, the time helping her get to the bathroom in the middle of the night or being there when she needed pain medication, even just simple moments spent by her side, comforting her with ruminations about the good old days quickly started to weigh on me.
I want to focus today on a few self care tips that I had to force myself to adhere to while caring for my mom after her surgery. Unlike the other articles that I’ve written, these tips are a bit selfish. They are all about making yourself comfortable while leaning into the role of caretaker.
Some of these points may even seem trivial if you aren’t in the throes of caregiving at the moment, but don’t take these ideas too lightly – they were truly beneficial to both myself and my mother during a stressful time. If you aren’t in a good headspace yourself, it will be incredibly difficult to help your loved one find comfort.
1. Find Backup Support
Finding support is absolutely my number one piece of advice when it comes to self care tips for a caregiver. This might be my number one piece of advice for life in general.
Know this: It is hard to do everything yourself.
Building a support system is critical for success in all aspects of life or you run the risk of burning out and failing. It’s important to know that you simply can’t do it all and that asking for help is not just okay, but a good thing.
I have a support team around me at work who I can trust with managing the business when I’m not available. I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband who can help me with things at home. I have a chosen family of trustworthy friends who I can rely on in times of need. I’ve built these circles of people around me who I can depend on for help and advice when I’m struggling and I’m so thankful for that.
Finding a family member or a friend who is able to take a shift either for a few hours each day or for a longer shift every few days will be the greatest gift that you can give yourself as a caregiver.
I was awake with my mom nearly every single hour throughout the night during the first few weeks of her recovery and, being a bit stubborn, it took me far too long to finally ask my dad to help out with a few hours each morning so that I could get at least 3 hours of solid sleep each day. Once he was able to step in for a 7-10am shift, everything felt more manageable.
Somewhere within your support group, within that tight knit, trusted circle of family and friends, you can find someone who is willing to put in a few hours here and there to give you a break. Find that person and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
2. Relax Your Caregiving Muscles With A Massage
I don’t know how doctors and nurses do it. While caring for my mom, I felt like I was on my feet all day long. I was trudging up and down the staircase over and over, seemingly around the clock (and mind you, I was pregnant at the time as well).
By just the second week as a caregiver, my legs and back were shot. I was sore in places that I didn’t realize could get sore and during the few hours that I did have to lay down and rest, I was often in discomfort, trying to stretch out my hamstrings and toes in order to reach any level of comfort.
If you can afford it, and have the time for it, don’t feel bad scheduling a massage for yourself. Even if it’s just a foot massage, that time spent molding out the knots in your muscles will work wonders for your body and your mental health, allowing you to keep moving.
If you don’t have the spare cash or the time to set aside, just get yourself a pressure point ball (even a lacrosse ball works!) or a pack of a few simple devices like this one that you can use to massage the soles of your feet, your back, your hamstrings, and your hips. For a few bucks spent, it might be the investment of a lifetime.
3. Bath Time – It Isn’t Just For Kids
The benefits of a bath have been scientifically studied. A warm bath can impact your joints and muscles, reduce pain and inflammation, calm the nervous system, even help you breathe easier. But I don’t need science to tell me how relaxing a long bath with a good book or a movie on your iPad can be.
As a caregiver, you seldom get time to shut off. Taking advantage of the moments when your loved one is resting is important when it comes to self care tips as a caretaker. Use those precious minutes to relax your muscles and your mind. Turn off your phone, close your eyes, and breathe deeply while nestled in a bubbly bathtub. You’ll be happy you took that moment to switch off and meditate.
4. Communicate With Your Employer and Coworkers
Here is a big life lesson for you: people care.
I think we’ve all been worried at times about telling our boss or our colleagues about something that’s going on in our personal lives – I know that I have. We don’t want our company to think that we don’t have enough time to get our work done or to be forced to use our limited vacation days to care for mom. But, I have found that if you’re open with people, they tend to understand.
One of the best self care tips that I can advise for you is to notify your boss or your team or your HR manager, whomever you think should know about what is going on in your life. Let them know that there might be some days where you need a few hours off. Eliminate the stress of trying to overwork yourself by hiding what’s going on in your personal life from your professional life. Set the expectation that it might take you an extra minute to respond to Slack messages or answer an email and that you might skip out on meetings where your presence isn’t really necessary.
Chances are, your colleagues at work have been through something similar or will be in the future and will gladly help you out as best they can to be sure you aren’t stressed at work while caring for your loved one.
5. Don’t Forget To Hydrate!
If you don’t stay healthy, you can’t keep someone else healthy. I was admittedly not very good about staying hydrated while caring for my mom and it feels like I’m still catching up at this point as I let myself become so dehydrated and that’s why it makes my list of self care tips.
Water helps our bodies in nearly everything that they do, but for some reason, even while keeping my mom well hydrated and fed, I’d often forget about myself.
There are 6 quick tips in this article on how to keep yourself hydrated, but a couple of my simple favorites are to carry a reusable water bottle with me everywhere that I go and to flavor my water with a bit of lemon or cucumber as the taste makes it a bit more appealing and addictive.
6. Shift Your Mindset
As I’m about to be a new mom, this tip might be the most important one personally at the moment. When you become a caretaker – be it for an older adult or a child – you need to shift your mindset as you are no longer the most important person in the world. Its one of the most important self care tips out there.
We all get set in our ways. I have plenty of selfish tendencies, just like you, and I appreciate my alone time or the moments when I can do exactly what interests me. Shifting to a world where I need to put someone ahead of myself was tough and will be tough again in the future, but it is one of the most important self care tips that I could give a caregiver.
The only constant in the world is change. It’s important to go with the flow, take things one day at a time, and search for new hobbies and set new goals for yourself when life throws you a curveball.
You may not be able to do all of the things that you used to do when you become a caregiver, but that doesn’t imply that you can’t find other meaningful and fulfilling hobbies and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t readjust your mindset with a reimagined purpose for your life.
Set small goals for yourself. Take days as they come and adapt to each moment with as much zen and grace as you can afford to offer. Find new ways to enjoy the small bits and pieces of free time that you have in your new role as caregiver. And ultimately, take this as an opportunity to grow.