Grace, not Guilt, About Our Self-Care

It’s different during care which is why we give ourselves grace.

Over the years, I’ve kept track of articles and headlines which position our caregiving experience in the wrong way. Yesterday, I read an article about self-care (This is what self-care looks like for caregivers) which offered a great suggestion (self-care in short bursts) with the wrong positioning.

“Finding yourself responsible for meeting the physical, mental and spiritual needs of another person totally dependent on you can take up a lot of your time and energy. That’s why caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. 

“Unfortunately, it’s often one of the most neglected.

“But mental health experts agree that when the caregivers’ needs are met, the person receiving the care also benefits.”

The article closes with:

“Mental health experts compare caregiver self-care to the rules covering oxygen mask use on a plane. Everyone knows you are supposed to put your own mask on before helping anyone else. That’s because you can only be of help when you’re getting what you need.

“‘Once you start practicing self-care you are going to be refreshed and able to care for your loved one as your best self,’ Fileccia said. ‘Ultimately, that is what people want.’”

Neglect is often the word association with our challenge in finding time for ourselves during our personal caregiving experience. We are not neglectful people, though. If we were, our carees would be dead.

In addition, our self-care must include the need for autonomy outside of our caregiving experience. Sure, we’re better able to care for another when we care for ourselves. Most important, we take time for our needs because we deserve the time for our own needs. We need self-care today so we show up in our future in our best shape possible. We have a future after caregiving ends and we deserve time today that will create a better tomorrow. We want a future!

Self-care during a caregiving experience is different than self-care before our caregiving experience. Because it’s different, the over-used oxygen analogy just doesn’t work. We’re faced with days when it’s not just one person who needs our help putting on the oxygen mask. We’re inundated with an overwhelming amount of requests and needs to manage. In addition, there’s a mask for everyone on the plane. In our real life, we often don’t have enough time or resources or energy for everyone. Imagine managing and coping with days where we live with the reality of not having enough, no matter how hard we try, and then reading an article that implies you neglect and need to put your oxygen mask on first. (I also think any articles that reference respite services need to include a disclaimer that finding help may be more difficult because of the direct care workforce shortage.)

During caregiving, so much changes — our schedule, our energy, our resources, our hope. Because of all these changes, we have to find a new routine and habit for our self-care, which takes time. Developing that new schedule for our own self-care adds another level of stress to our days. We feel the pounds packing on to our middle section which leads to feelings of guilt and worry about the impact. That worry and guilt join that caregiving stress which already feels so big and overwhelming.

We need to be gracious with ourselves as we figure out what self-care looks like and feels like during caregiving. Maybe self-care starts with Netflix. When Netflix helps us relax and find energy, maybe self-care becomes fruit in the morning with breakfast. When fruit feels like an accomplishment, perhaps self-care expands into a 7-minute work-out three times a week.

I included a beautiful photo with today’s post of a luscious looking breakfast. That breakfast takes time, time which we often don’t have. Even the simple act of washing fruit can just feel like too much for us, especially during those days when we struggle with not having enough. For years, I thought, “I need to eat fruit in the morning.” I only found the time and energy to add fruit with my breakfast this year.

Over the years, I often thought about exercising early in the morning. This week, I adjusted my schedule to swim outside in our community pool at 7 a.m. This change to my schedule both satisfies and exhausts me. I love the swim but the adjustment is stressful, which seems so odd. Change, both good and bad, adds stress. During caregiving, especially the intense times of caregiving, we need the path of least resistance because we just can’t stomach another change.

We’re finding our process for how we take time and create a schedule for our own needs. When we’re in the middle of that process, which means we could still be on the couch watching Netflix, we need someone to say, “I see you taking care of yourself right now. You deserve this time.” If we hear, “I see you watching Netflix right now. You really need to take care of youself. You have to put your oxygen mask on first,” we feel depleted from being misunderstood. That feeling of being judged keeps us on the couch.

We also may need to determine our self-care schedule that works when we feel a calmer time during caregiving and when we find ourselves in a crisis. Creating two kinds of schedules also requires a process.

When we feel that someone understands what we need and the challenges we encounter, we’ll have the energy for that next step in our self-care process. Self-care really begins with feeling accepted and understood. We need to receive grace — not guilt — about our self-care process.

Which messages in the media rub you the wrong way? Please share your thoughts in our comments section, below.


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