Love Myself so I Have Love to Share: A Valentine Mantra for Caregivers

Whether at a job or at home, stress that is left unchecked can quickly deteriorate. The more tired we are, the less patient we are. The less patient we are, the more likely we are to get upset with someone or something that really wasn’t a big deal.  The more often we lose our cool over small things, the more likely we are to have negative self-talk which can continue on a downward spiral to shame, depression, and even feelings of helplessness at times.  This is especially true for family caregivers who are socially isolated and in need of a break.

Caring for another person can be a tiring task that goes unnoticed. People tend to get praised at work for a job well done, which help can make long hours and stressful situations a little more tolerable.  However, caring for a loved one does not usually result in a bonus, vacation days, or even sick days, let alone praise and accolades.  We are also less likely to identify and alter the stressors in a family caregiving situation than we are a stressful workplace.

Most caregivers are not in a situation where they can remove the stressful situation from their life like they could if it was a job. Hence, as a caregiver we need to learn to manage our environment so we can destress and self-care. The downward spiral that starts with a loss of patience can lead to helplessness quickly if we are not careful. The issue most caregivers suffer from is immeasurable guilt.  We often feel guilty for getting frustrated with our loved one, identifying the need to take a break, doing something nice for ourselves, resenting having to miss events to care for someone else, or even just admitting we had a bad day.  The best way out of this cycle is to stop it before it starts to spiral.

This is all easier said than done. Finding time to take care of our own needs can sometimes be overwhelming.  That is why you need a plan and to give yourself permission to recognize your own needs too. For Valentine’s Day this year you are going to give the person you care for the gift of a rested and happier you by giving yourself a “Me Date”.  There is no need for guilt for getting some space from the person you care for because coming back rested and rejuvenated is also a gift for them.

For Valentine’s Day this year you are going to take your relative, friend, church member, or neighbor up on their offer to come stay with the person you care for so you can have a break. If someone is not available, you are going to contact your local Alzheimer’s Association or agency affiliated with the health condition of the person you care for and find a referral for in home care for a few hours.  Yes this may cost a bit, but you are worth it and so are they.

Once you have care arranged, you need to develop a plan. Whether you choose to go out solo or join up with others is up to you.  The point is to get out and do something that makes you happy.  Maybe you want to meet a friend for a long chat over ice cream or dinner.  Possibly you crave more stimulation but less conversation, so try a concert or movie.  Perhaps a cup of hot tea and a few hours alone in a book store is more your speed.  If nature makes you smile, go for a walk or plant some flowers.  If you are artistic, attending a date and paint event with a friend where you paint a canvas in a group class can be a great activity or even a stroll through a local art museum or art walk may be fun.  What you choose for the activity is not important. You simply need to find something you enjoy.

Once the day arrives, you need to get into the mindset that you are going out on a date. This means taking the time to shower, groom yourself, and dress nicely.  You don’t necessarily need to be fancy, but something clean that makes you feel good when you wear it is important.  When you were courting you likely didn’t race out the door in dirty clothes with unclean hair or teeth.  Part of a date is the primping that leads into the date, which can help to build excitement.  Likewise, for your “Me Date” letting go of the guilt and acknowledging the need to take a break comes from the preparations that put you in the right head space before you leave.

So here is how this is going to work, go grab a piece of paper and draw a big heart on it. Now, write in the center three ideas you have for your “Me Date” and three people you can contact to help with caring for your loved one.  Next, walk to your bathroom and tape it to your mirror. This is so you see it every time you look in the mirror. Now each time that you look at yourself and see signs of frustration, tiredness, or even sadness, make trying to set-up plans for your “Me Date” a priority that day.

For Valentine’s Day, please gift yourself and the person you care for a break from each other. You will come back with more energy, patience, and an improved outlook. You will also realize that other people are capable of helping and you don’t have to do it alone.  Hopefully you will enjoy it so much that you will make it a priority to schedule a “Me Date” for yourself again in the not too distant future.

While loving and taking care of your loved one, don’t forget to love and take care of yourself too!

 

Written by Marci L. Hardy, PhD

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