Though it doesn’t feel like it in most of the country, Fall is officially upon us. There’s the activities and the get togethers. The smells and the lead up to… the holiday season! Arguably fall is my favorite time of year and easily also one of the most stressful. In gearing up for the pending holidays, trying to enjoy outings with loved ones and friends and preparing for the end of the year in terms of work and personal life (I’m someone who likes to file my taxes in January if I can help it to get them out of the way) I inevitably run into a wall of burnout. It’s not permanent and to be honest is totally avoidable if I just created some margin. I know, it’s easier said than done when the kids, the spouse, the job, the (insert religious organization you belong to), the neighborhood watch, the scout troop or sports team, the friends, the family…the lists go on… all need something and they need it soon. If you are anything like me you’re a doer. But doers…they need margin most of all. We have to build in safe guards and set boundaries to make sure that while we’re caring for and participating with others, we’re also monitoring and taking care of ourselves. That we don’t run into the situation that we run totally out of steam, burning the candle at all ends and find ourselves in the dark.
Like I said, it’s easier said than done but just think how much better you’d be if you weren’t laying under the desk completely done at the end of the week. So, what have I done to help create space and boundaries for myself? I have people in my life who understand my doer mentality and essentially pull the plug from time to time. They’re there and not only listen to the litany of items on my ever growing To-Do list but also challenge me and say ‘Can someone else pick up the donations from the restaurant’ ‘Who can you call to finish making the activities for the carnival’ ‘Do you need to volunteer to run another event’ and most importantly, ‘What have you done this week that’s just for you’. They ask not because they are nosy or because they are looking to judge or condemn me. No, they ask because I’ve let them in and given them permission to tap me on the shoulder when it looks like I’m headed for the red zone. And vice versa, I’m part of their team. Their team that pulls them from the edge when they’re baking for the 5th bake sale this month or about to volunteer to run the fundraiser that drove them insane last year. You should surround yourself with people who you trust to step into your life and help you keep up with the boundaries you need…not the Jones’ down the block. So how do you do it? How do you build in the buffer? Because creating space and implementing margins in our time and energy may not feel natural at first if you are a doer, but it’ll help keep you from smacking into the wall of exhaustion…and who doesn’t want that?!
Keeping with the theme of relationships on this month’s blog inspired me to do a little Googling into different relationship topics and recent news to see what’s been trending lately. I actually found several pieces on toxic relationships and help in how to recognize these. Usually when people think about relationships the mind doesn’t tend to go towards the dark side necessarily, but the truth is there can be a lot of toxic parts to a relationship that some people don’t even notice sometimes. Often, people believe their relationships look like other’s relationships; everyone has their ups and downs and not-so-fluffy cloudlike days and this is normal. This is true, but when the relationship is in that darker side of the clouds more often than not, it’s something to address.
Psychology Today recently posted about how to recognize toxic people and relationships, and it’s not always easy. In a relationship, sometimes the people involved have blinders on in order to see what they want or need to see in the other person; it’s only natural. Everyone has flaws and no one is perfect, but there are some toxic traits that can’t and shouldn’t be overlooked. Things like selfishness, disrespect, and arrogance are all signs that point towards a potentially harmful toxic relationship. The post also mentions these other red flags as potential signs of a toxic bond:
Examining one’s relationship and trying to recognize red flags is not easy. It can be overwhelming and sometimes shocking to realize that the relationship is causing more harm than good and if it’s contributing to stress and negativity. Sometimes these bonds are ones that can’t be severed so easily either, especially if they’re with family and loved ones. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with positive energy and loving relationships whenever possible, and taking a step back from the ones that aren’t is sometimes necessary. Reaching out to others for support, seeking therapy, taking time for self-care and self-love are actions that can help combat toxicity. Everyone deserves to be respected and to be in relationships that nurture love and support; anything else is unnecessary distress.
Caregivers are some of the most important people in the world. They dedicate themselves to caring for someone else with their time, commitment, sacrifice, and compassion. Being a caregiver to someone else means they don’t always have the time to care for themselves. But everyone’s wellness and care are important, especially for those who need to be there for another person. Caregiving is an enormous task that can stretch people thin and make it difficult to carry out or even think about one’s own wellness. It’s no one’s fault – there is only so much time in the day and when the majority of that time is focused on someone else’s care, a caregiver’s own wellness and physical well-being are often just put on the back burner. The same is true of parenting/family roles and helping professions; others needs are simply put first, without question or expectation.
Caregiving doesn’t necessarily mean that person has to do everything themselves either. Knowing when and how to ask for help is a great strength, and for caregivers there are resources that can help. Oftentimes these resources are geared towards those caring for someone elderly, but it’s these same types of contacts that can help those caring for disabled individuals too. Communication is vital in the caregiver role; being able to talk about what is needed or what’s currently going on is essential to maintaining balance and stability. One key element to caregiver support is respite; a period of rest and relief for those carrying out this role. It’s also a significant piece to wellness – taking a break to focus on one’s own needs and having the peace of mind to know that the person they care for is safe in that moment too. It’s not a selfish act by any means; it’s a necessity of life. You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of someone else. Selflessness is an admirable quality but self-care is equally important.
Self Care by it’s very definition is “Care of the self without medical or other professional consultation” (or at least that is what Dictionary.com says). The very act of one caring for oneself would seem would be natural and come without thought. Then why is it so incredibly hard for individuals to practice self-care? We spend hours, weeks and years of our lives making time to care for others, putting others needs first and making to sure to be there for those around us who call. And while I’m sure this is incredibly helpful to the friends, neighbors, coworkers and loved ones who we give our time to, we often suffer in the name of others.
Please don’t get me wrong, helping family, volunteering for organizations, being there for friends and coworkers is valuable and vital to building good community and connection, but taking the time for self is vital to you. Often, and I’m probably not alone in this, I feel selfish and self-centered when I turn down working at a community event, changing plans to help a friend move or asking someone else to take something off my plate. But it’s important to remember that “an empty cup has nothing to pour out.” So if you are depleted, running on empty, feeling emotionally or physically fatigued, not only will you personally feel the weight of it but possibly the interactions you have with others will also be impacted.
What is self-care? That looks different for every person. I enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning on my back steps, going to the movies first thing Saturday morning when I’m the only person there and taking my favorite playlist with my DSLR camera and getting lost exploring my city on a beautiful day. Yours may be similar but it may also be completely different.
I’m a fan of podcasts and educational talks. If you have not heard of them, give TedTalks a try. They have a section on the importance of Self-care. And if you don’t want to take my word for why placing an emphasis on self-care is so important, give them a listen as they give ideas, tips and why behind the what of self-care. Listening to their talks may just be an act of self-care in itself 🙂
This month some people will find themselves celebrating Valentine’s Day, a holiday that celebrates love, warmth and thoughtfulness. The day isn’t made just for couples but for all who wish to rejoice in caring and kindness—whether it be with family, friends, or finding time to care for yourself. You can use Valentine’s Day as a reason to stop and consider what you can do just for you; with no schedule or agenda to follow, just an opportunity for a little ‘me’ time. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to break the bank spending money on material things to make yourself feel pampered. There is no gesture or act too small when it comes to caring for yourself. Approach it with the question ‘I have time to do something for myself, what would make me happy?’ You may find the list of possibilities longer than you thought and that you’re overdue for some much needed self-care. In case you need a few more ideas, here are some ways you can pamper yourself, not only for this upcoming Valentine’s Day but throughout the whole year.
Devote an amount of time for your favorite hobby or activity that you don’t do very often
Check out that book, magazine, show or movie you’ve been interested in
Take a day off—from a daily routine/schedule or from work but don’t schedule any other commitments, unless they’re fun and for your own benefit; remember, this is ‘me’ time!
If you feel the urge to spend a little money, treat yourself to some flowers or a small trinket you’ve had your eye on
Make time to listen to music, or take a walk/ride. Sit outside or look out the window and take notice of things that you don’t usually take the time to see
Relax! I know this is a foreign concept for many but try to make the conscious effort to rest your body and mind. Let your shoulders relax, pay attention to your breathing and feel your body unwind (this isn’t always easy to do so it may take some practice, be patient with yourself)
After attending a retreat this week for helping professionals, there were a lot of things put into perspective for me. One being that we all need to make time for is self-care in our routines, to maintain a balance between things we must do and things we should be doing for ourselves on a daily basis. But another poignant moment at the retreat posed the question: “Who do you want to bring into your circle?” The circle symbolizes your safe space, the area you’re surrounded by that accompanies you through your day to day. It represents your thoughts and hopes and also your vulnerabilities. So the question that was posed of whom you’d want to enter this space with you or who you’ve already accepted into this space was profound. It’s not often that we are able to take the time to consciously think of those we’re surrounded by and why it is we’ve chosen them to be a part of our lives. Being able to reflect on this was moving.
We go through life at times with certain blinders on. We rush through daily activities and sometimes forget that we’re part of a bigger world, full of other people experiencing similar types of thoughts and feelings, though each unique and different in their own way. Our circles intersect with others, and though we may not realize it, some of us have already chosen whom or what we’d like as part of our circle. They are the family and friends we surround ourselves with, those we let in when we need to connect and feel validated. They are the places we like to visit, the things we enjoy doing most. It can really be anything or anyone; it’s up to you who enters the circle, because after all, it is yours.
Being a caregiver doesn’t always mean having time to take care of yourself, but at times it is exactly what’s needed in order to maintain your own wellbeing. Yes, it may not always fit into your schedule while taking care of others, but it requires some consideration so that you may carry out these other responsibilities. As a caregiver, self-care means having to make time during the busy day to do something for yourself. For some this is difficult to achieve or even fathom, because the person being cared for is your top priority. But, if possible, you may be able to make minor changes or tweaks to a routine that creates the time and space for this much needed self-care. Though caregiving can be unpredictable due to the changing nature of illness, it is important to take advantage of times where you can be taken care of too. Here are some suggestions to find these moments of self-care:
Take rests when they rest.
Eat regularly! Eating meals together can have an added quality time component too.
Venture outside of the home when you can. Running errands, going shopping, or even just taking a brief walk can provide some alone time needed to rejuvenate yourself (To search for respite resources in your area, see the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, http://archrespite.org/home).
Talk! Caregiving can be an overwhelming and emotional journey, so if you have the opportunity to talk or vent about your experiences, do so. If you would like an objective third party to listen who’s not a family member or friend, it may be helpful talking to a counselor/therapist about your experiences in order to safely and effectively express your feelings in this role.
Caregiving is no easy task. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and commitment. So while you’re busy taking care of others, be sure to remember you, and that sometimes you need care too!
The role of the caregiver is often described as “the rock” or “the foundation” of the family; the one responsible for the wellbeing of all. But who takes care of you? Just as much as your loved one needs your support, you need support also. It is ok to take a break, and turn to help when you need it. In order to be the best caregiver you can be you need to be well rested both mentally and physically. Being the primary caregiver for an individual with MS can be challenging. The unpredictability of MS itself creates an additional challenge in trying to manage your day to day life.
There are some helpful resources for those in the caregiver role to aid in the management of the daily challenges of caregiving. The Family Caregiver Alliance provides caregiving information and advice as well as a guide to state resources available to caregivers. The Caregiver Action Network offers information and resources to individuals in all types of caregiving situations. The site helps to identify the various needs that caregivers may express through their varying roles.
Another great resource directed specifically towards spousal caregivers is the Wellspouse Association. They coordinate a national network of Support Groups and facilitate a Mentor program. And when the time comes for a break, the National Respite Network provides a National Respite Locator to help caregivers locate respite services in their community. The site also helps to educate caregivers on how to find and choose appropriate respite care.
With so many resources available to assist the individual in the caregiving role, now it is your time to take a break and be the best caregiver that you can be.
Throughout any given day, we all put things off; we tell ourselves that some things are ok to wait until tomorrow and we often lose track of time just trying to finish yesterday’s tasks today. Most of the time these “things” that we push to the side and put off for another day are self-fulfilling tasks; doing something we enjoy, accomplishing an activity we’ve been “meaning to get to,” but haven’t had the time or setting aside time to process the day’s events. We become lost in taking care of others and performing certain goals that we lose the time encouraged for completing our own goals.
Is there something you’ve been telling yourself you would do “when you have the time?” Perhaps one of the goals you set for the day should be making time for yourself. Write down that story you’ve had in your head, watch the movie you’ve wanted to see or get in touch with the friend you’ve been meaning to call. If you don’t take the time to encourage self-care activities that you want to do, you may find difficulty performing the tasks you have to do.