Let me start by saying I don’t have an issue with bubble baths and smelly candles. But let’s be honest, when we are buried in our caring role, such luxuries take a back seat.
I have been a carer for almost half my life. It’s a tough gig at times, but one that has taught me so much and given me a strength that I often forget I have.
Over the years I have found self-care strategies for managing stress and looking after myself – even when it feels like I don’t have time to do it. Some of these may work for you, and others may not. But I encourage you to find your version of self-care – something that recharges you and gives you the energy and strength you need as a carer.
#1 Health check-in
Make a doctor’s appointment. If you have been putting it off, do it now. Our health is our oxygen mask and just like on a plane, we should deal with our own first. Talk to your doctor about your physical and mental health. This will help them to work with you when things aren’t going well.
Stay hydrated and eat well. When we drink enough water and eat a good diet, it helps us maintain the energy we need for our caring role. It is tempting to fall into the trap of “treating ourselves” but overdosing on chocolate or wine doesn’t actually give us the boost we need.
Sleep. Go to bed early or sleep late. Nap during the day if you can. Take opportunities to sleep when you can. Your health will thank you for it.
#2 Screens down
Screen time is draining. We scroll social media and compare our lives to others. We mindlessly binge tv shows or we play repetitive games to try and ‘switch off’. Too much time looking at a screen can cause problems with vision, posture and health.
And as a carer it also drains our time.
It means that extra hour in our day when we could have been sleeping or spending time with our loved one, has been chewed up by mindless television or games on our phone. Put the phone down and turn off the tv. You will be surprised at the extra time you will find in your day.
#3 Seek connection
We are all human and humans thrive on connection with others. Reach out to a friend or a partner and share some quality time (no phones!). There is some great research about the psychological benefits of hugging another person. Physical touch helps us feel connected, even when we are feeling isolated from the outside world.
Where another person isn’t available to you, try hugging your dog or a pillow. And perhaps reach out via phone to someone you trust.
#4 Think positive thoughts
Our brains are amazingly adaptable. Studies have shown that deliberately identifying positive things that have happened in our day can reset our mindset.
Each night as you go to bed, name 3 positive things that happened to you during the day. They can be small things like being able to finish your coffee before it went cold or getting the washing dry. Write them in a gratitude journal if you like. But just thinking of them to yourself is ok too.
You will begin to notice positive things throughout your day and it can lift your mood as you go about your normal routine.
#5 Manage your environment
Declutter your home as much as you can. As carers, we often have extra stuff in our homes or we save things ‘just in case’. Even if you only get rid of one bag or box of things each week, eventually you will start to notice the effect it has on your wellbeing.
Get outside. I don’t know what it is about nature that is so good for our wellbeing. Maybe it is the country girl in me, or perhaps there is some deeper science behind it all. But when I go outside, watch the trees, listen to the birds and feel the grass, my mood is lifted. Try it and see what you notice.
#6 Rediscover play
Get creative. Creativity means something different for each of us. It may be drawing or doodling. Or painting. It could be writing a book or learning an instrument. Keep it simple. You don’t need to go and join expensive classes and buy all the stuff. Pull out the kids’ coloured pencils and just doodle. Or find a colouring book. The best part is you can totally suck at it! Being creative is not about producing a perfect final product, it is about the process of creating, so enjoy it.
Find opportunities to have fun. This could be putting on some loud music and dancing around the house as you clean. Our family always seems to get a little silly when we play board games. Invite a friend over who always makes you laugh. Or maybe explore laughing therapy (yep that’s a thing – doesn’t it sound fun?!).
#7 Live your values
My final tip is to know and understand your personal and family values – and to live by them. Values provide a deep sense of direction for our lives and help us see when we are on track. Understanding what is deeply important to you, will help you set goals and make decisions that feel ‘right’. When we make decisions that align with who we are as a person, we feel empowered, confident and able to tackle whatever our carer role throws at us.
The carer role is a tough one. We do it because we can’t imagine an alternative and often, we feel as though the caring should come first. By taking small moments throughout the day and making good choices, we can move from simply surviving each day, to thriving and living our best life possible.