“If I’d have known I would live this long I would’ve taken better care of myself!”
~ Sammy Davis, Jr.
If you are one of the 48.5 million unpaid care-givers in the U.S. you may have heard this lament from the family member who relies on you for care. I call it the “if only” syndrome: If only I’d quit smoking, dealt with my stress, exercised, ate healthy foods – you can fill in the blank. I heard it from my mom countless times during the 11 years I was responsible for her care. Unfortunately for her, it was too little too late. After she fell and broke her hip she just didn’t have the mental, physical or emotional resiliency to recover. She died just 7 short weeks after that fall.
And so began my mission to inform, educate and empower my caregiver peers about the importance of our own self-care.
Just what is self-care? One definition: “Self-care is the intentional time taken by an individual to nurture him or herself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally on a daily basis”. A dear friend of mine (who was currently in charge of care of her mother in the final stages of Alzheimer’s) told me this definition sounded selfish. I said “no, it’s self-responsibility.”
Right about now you may be rolling your eyes and thinking “easy for you to say”! No, it’s not easy. But think of it this way – there is a good reason why the airlines tell us to put on our own oxygen mask before helping another.
So here is my definition of self-care – these are some things that worked for me:
SUPPORT - it’s ok to ask for help: find a caregiver support group, talk with a therapist, a clergyperson, a friend. Check out your local senior centers – many have affiliated with local social services agencies and their classes are often free.
EXERCISE – take a walk, ride a bike, swim, do yoga or tai chi, stretch – even in small increments throughout the day this will help relieve stress. Short on time? Studies have shown that taking three 10- minute walks throughout the day is just as effective as one 30 -minute walk.
LAUGH - often & loudly, read jokes, watch funny TV shows & movies. I was introduced to Laughter Yoga during my training to become certified as a teacher. Laughing out loud is nourishment for your soul! Check out YouTube for Laughter Yoga classes online (no bending like a pretzel is required).
FUN – do something that makes you smile – play with your pet, be silly with your grandchildren, dance, sing, garden, go out with friends.
COMPASSION – have it for yourself as well as others. Don’t “should on yourself” – you’re doing the best you can. I like the quote “Start where you are,Use what you have, Do what you can.”
ACCEPT – remember the serenity prayer “Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. If you feel your stress level rising, try box breathing: Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale through your mouth with an “ahhh” sound for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4 before your next inhale. Repeat several times until you feel re-centered.
REST – as a caregiver, you can constantly feel drained – both emotionally and physically. Give yourself a break - take a nap, get a good night’s sleep, sit in nature, listen to music you enjoy. I found that daily meditation helped me to stay present –I like the daily 15-minute practice offered by the CALM app.
ENRICH – give yourself the gift of enriching your life – cultivate friendships, get a massage, take a class, treat yourself to a pedicure, read uplifting books. Remember, this is not selfish – it’s self-responsibility.
If I’m not for me, then who will be?
AND THAT IS OK!!!!
Sue Perisi believes self-care is an integral component of true wellness. She wants others to feel empowered to participate in their own well-being, which is why the people she works with aren't just clients – they are partners in their own health. Drawing on over 30+ years of creating and teaching health and wellness programs, Sue works with clients to create a customized plan tailored to meet their individual goals for achieving robust well-being.
If you would like to learn more about Sue and her services, check out her website www.mindfulvitality.com and request a free 15-minute consultation.