self care

Wellness for Caregivers

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By Natalie Stamper, Psy.D

“Life may occasionally become chaotic, so be prepared for it, accept it and cherish the times of status quo.” – Future of Personal Health

Being thrown into the role of a caregiver can be a stressful endeavor. Caregiving can mean many things, but typically it involves caring for another who cannot provide themselves with one or more aspects of their well-being. However, often caregivers fail to help their loved ones because of a lack of self-care. They tend to get so lost in their duties that they neglect their own needs, which can become a detriment to emotional and physical well-being for both the provider and the recipient of said care. Below explore ways to manage the stress of caregiving to ensure wellness for both the giver and recipient of care.

All Emotions are Valid

We often find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by a flood of negative emotions in stressful situations. We may feel depressed, resentful, or angry at the receiver of care and oneself. You may also feel anxious about your situation, resulting in symptoms such as constant urges to cry or sleeping for long periods. This can result from unchecked emotional stressors, so it is essential to be aware of what is troubling you and how you can change it. Let’s remember that we are human and therefore not perfect. We may make mistakes in caretaking, but it’s important not to let it turn into guilt. Instead, we can learn from our mistakes so that we can lead happier and healthier lives in the future. Whatever the situation, remember that you, too, are important. All emotions, good and bad, about caregiving, are not only allowed but valid (Family Caregiver Alliance).

Seek Support

It can be much easier to manage these emotions when speaking with a support group of others who are in similar situations (Future of Personal Health). And if stuck at home, online support is also available. Members of support groups will know your fears and worries better than anyone else. If you feel overwhelmed by your obligations, there is also no shame in contacting friends or family for help (Future of Personal Health). More often than not, they will not know how to help or what to do, so delegating minor tasks can help guide them and take a huge weight off of your shoulders. Accepting their help can give you more time to maintain proper physical and mental health, such as exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep. It is also crucial to stay aware of when you should contact professionals; we all have limitations. And if you ever feel you are not equipped to handle certain aspects of care, training is available. Even a small amount of professional aid can make a huge difference.

Caregiving is stressful for everyone. It pains us all to see loved ones who need help taking care of themselves. But neglecting your own self-care does more harm than good to everyone in the long term. Managing scenarios such as these can ensure a better quality of life for you and whoever is in your care.


References

“8 Things Caregivers Can Do to Take Care of Themselves.” Future of Personal Health, Future of Personal Health, www.futureofpersonalhealth.com/prevention-and-treatment/8-things-caregivers-can-do-to-take-care-of-themselves.

“Emotional Side of Caregiving.” Caring for Adults with Cognitive and Memory Impairment | Family Caregiver Alliance, Family Caregiver Alliance, www.caregiver.org/emotional-side-caregiving.

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Giving Service to Improve Your Mental Health

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By Alicia Cox, MA, AMFT

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

There are many tools we can use to help better our overall mental health, but there is one thing we can do that can better someone else’s life in addition to our own life. This tool is the act of giving service to others. There are many reasons to give service to someone else, but it has been lesser known until recent years that many mental health benefits are associated with volunteer work. Since there are so many health benefits, it is now considered a form of self-care.

When you gives to others, your brain releases chemicals, including dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals are responsible for brightening your mood and giving you a sense of calm and harmony. When you are experiencing a lot of stress in your life and are having a difficult time managing stress, giving service to a family member, friend, or your community could help improve your mood. It is another tool to add to your mental health toolbox that can help bring your mood back to a more manageable level.

Philanthropy also has some physical benefits. One study found that when a person volunteers on a regular basis, that person’s risk for developing hypertension (high blood pressure) decreases significantly. The same study also found an association between regular volunteer work and increased psychological well-being and physical activity. Both these factors are important for better overall health.

Helping others can also help establish purpose in our lives. It can help us discover our role within our community and help us feel more connected. In addition, it could lead us toward finding something we are passionate about and open new doors for us. I know multiple people who have found new careers they are passionate about from volunteering within their community.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find time to volunteer when you have so many other things going on in your life. There are ways you can give service to others without being part of an organized volunteer group or event. Offer to mow your neighbor’s lawn when you are mowing your own. Bring a friend dinner when they are sick. Volunteer to help strangers load groceries in their car if you notice they need assistance. Little things like these are considered giving service to others, and they are easy tasks for one to complete.

In my personal life, I try to be mindful of how I can give service to others each day. When things are busy, it can be hard to notice little things, but by being in a mindset of giving service, it helps open my eyes to things I can do to help others. Whether it’s opening the door for someone or picking up trash in my community park, there are little things that not only help my community, but also help my well-being and mood.


References

Renter, Elizabeth, “What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Life Expectancy.” U.S. News Health, May 1, 2015, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/05/01/what-generosity-does-to-your-brain-and-life-expectancy. Accessed March 30, 2018.

Sneed, R. S., & Cohen, S. (2013). A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 28(2), 578-586.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0032718. Accessed March 30, 2018.

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Self Compassion

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beyourself (Photo Credit: Thich Nhat Hanh, Calligraphy)

By Christine Brady, MA

When was the last time you recall hearing something like the following; “I can’t believe that you did that, what an idiot, you are so stupid, you always mess everything up.” Would you be surprised to know that many people speak to themselves like this on a daily basis?

While most of us would never dream of saying something so toxic to others we may have no problem speaking to ourselves this way. It may seem natural to respond with compassion and empathy to others that may be struggling while at the same time we may choose not to extend that same consideration to ourselves. It’s as if we believe that by coming down hard on ourselves we will somehow improve our performance.

Life naturally includes challenges and setbacks. We can add to the impact of intense events in our lives by colluding with an internalized bully. Constantly ruminating about past mistakes, current errors, and potential future gaffs keeps you out of the present moment and can exacerbate feelings of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, relationship problems, and difficulty in recovering from setbacks.

Developing a sense of self-compassion isn’t merely positive thinking or repeating mantras in an attempt to quiet your internal bully, it is based in the relationship that we have with ourselves. Self-compassion is the willingness to treat ourselves with the same caring support that we extend to others.

Self-compassion balances the truth of a situation such as “I made a mistake” with the ability to realize that making a mistake does not diminish your worth and value. This allows you to both acknowledge what happened directly while avoiding the feelings of shame that can lead to feelings of hopelessness, thereby increasing the level of difficulty in finding solutions.

Self-compassion is a skill that allows us to navigate our humanness with objectivity, empathy, understanding, and kindness. It is a way in which we can relate to ourselves both when we’re struggling and when things are going well. This compassionate view of ourselves brings light to the dark places, soothes the soul, and provides a safe space for imagining creative solutions to everyday problems.

The following is adapted from KimFredrickson.com (2015) We All Need Kindness, Identifying Self-Compassionate Ways that we can relate to Ourselves.

Truths We Can Share with Ourselves

    • You are valuable and precious, no matter what is happening
    • Even in the suffering you are going through, you are valuable and of great worth
    • Most people do the best they can with what they have. It is true that we want to live as healthy lives as possible, and it is also true that there are deep reasons why we make choices that can cause us harm
    • It is ok, and normal to be angry, confused, sad, and all jumbled up inside. These feelings are a normal and necessary part of the process of adjusting to what you are going through
    • Allow yourself to have and express your feelings if possible, because this expression cleanses and will subside
    • No matter what is happening, you can be a good friend to yourself
    • Take this time to allow your body/mind/spirit to heal. This is just as important as other things you need to do. Make sure care of yourself is in your schedule
    • Listen to yourself (your heart, feelings, thoughts, body, and spirit). What do you need right now? What would a really good friend do for you right now? You can be that friend
    • You are going through such a difficult time. What would the kindest person you know say to you right now?
    • Give yourself time to have a good cry and sleep. This may be just what you need
    • Breathe….and Rest…and be Kind…to You!

References

Fredrickson, K. (2015, November 19). We all need kindness. [web log post] Retrieved December 4, 2015 from http://www.kimfredrickson.com/we-all-need-kindness/

Fredrickson, K. (2015). Give yourself a break turning your inner critic into a compassionate friend. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.

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