Too often, caregivers of loved ones, or professional caregivers for that matter, tend to make their own self-care and well being their last priority. And, in many cases, agencies and organizations can contribute to the outworn idea that helpers must always put themselves last, many expecting staff to work long and flexible hours with little or no thought to the quality of life for their staff.
When suggesting to caregivers of loved ones to take some for their own well-being, their response is often that time for themselves would feel “selfish.” After all, look at all their loved one is going through.
The analogy of preparing for a flight works well here. In every safety demonstration it is recommended that if you need oxygen, you put your own mask on first before assisting others. Why? Because if you pass out as a result of a lack of oxygen, you are of no use in assisting others.
The same can be said for caregiving: if you burn yourself out completely, or end up being sick yourself as a result of lack of sleep, poor diet, too much stress, etc., the what good will you be in assisting that person you love?
A case can also be made in the professional realm. Every discipline has a code of ethics for behavior in the workplace that stresses “best practices.” Implicit in the demand for best practices is that you bring your best self to the enterprise of caring for others. And one’s best self includes proper diet, adequate rest and time off from the caregiving role. For the professional helper, then, self care becomes an ethical responsibility.
So whether you are caring for a loved one, or working as a helper or caregiver, your own self care is essential in providing the best possible care for others.
There are dozens of books and workshops to be found on this topic, but simply stated, the best self-care involves one’s own self awareness about the kinds of activities that truly relax and energize, and one size does not fit all. Only you know how best to use your self-care time. For some, it might be taking a half hour and escaping into a good book. For others it might involve a walk in nature or some other physical acitivity. Or it might involve a resolution to get more sleep. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. You will know by your reaction to the acitivity whether it is helpful for you. If it seems like “another chore” that will be a sign to try something different.
Always remember – your own life and well being matters too! So ask yourself, right now – “What small “self-indulgent’ thing can I do for myself each and every single day.
Remember, you are not obligated to set yourself on fire in order to keep others warm.
Blair Collins is a registered social worker who has over 30 years’ experience working in a wide variety of not-for-profit settings, including hospice palliative care. Presently Blair is a Provincial Marriage Commissioner, and continues to offer a variety of workshops and presentations.