The Tired Caregiver: 3 Quick Tools You Can Use THIS Week to Take Better Care of YOU
Do you find yourself taking care of everyone else first, and taking care of you very, very last? When you are caring for a loved one with a chronic illness, it is so easy to forget about you. Whether it’s your child, spouse, parent, or close friend, often their illness and pain and needs can easily find a way to override your needs and your care.
One common response to this is the old tried and true airplane oxygen mask example. What do they say at the beginning of literally every single flight that takes off every single day? If you are traveling with a young child, secure your oxygen mask first, then secure your child’s oxygen mask next. How does this even make sense? You are going to worry about YOU breathing before your CHILD is breathing? Well….yes.
If you can’t breathe, you are no good to your child. You become helpless yourself. You are the one that needs help from flight attendants or those around you. And then what has happened to your child? They need help and you are no longer available to provide that help. It’s a tough one to swallow, it’s a little cliche, but it really is a great analogy for being a caregiver. If you can’t breathe, you can’t provide care.
So let’s take 3 easy steps to help give you some oxygen. These are simple and are extremely effective. And the great news is that you can use them starting this week. No prep work needed, nothing fancy, just 3 simple tools to take some time for you.
Breathe. The first tool is to literally work on breathing. It’s the most simple, most readily available, cheapest, easiest tool that our bodies come built with at birth. Think of a phrase with two words that calms you down and gives you peace. In your head say one on the inhale and one on the exhale. “I’m okay”, “Peaceful thoughts”, “Calm heart”, or even “In and Out” are a few examples. Take a moment each day and breathe using your two words as you inhale the therapeutic breath, filling your body with care, and exhale the stress, letting your shoulders come down.
Schedule it. If you are a caregiver for someone with chronic illness, you know how to schedule. You live by a schedule. Your calendar is full and balanced and every day you likely review it and then live by it. So schedule time for you. Literally put it on your calendar, to take 5 minutes just for you. If daily feels impossible, and I know it may, try 3 times a week and build up. Practicing helps. Decide how you want to spend those 5 minutes and write that in as the appointment. Is it breathing with your eyes closed? Maybe taking a 5 minute walk around the block. Reading a magazine. Sipping your coffee, alone and quietly. Simply putting it on the calendar makes all the difference. Everything on your calendar is valid and necessary and important. Time for you is too and having it on your calendar will make time for you valid and necessary and important.
Use a transition ritual. What’s a transition ritual? Well it’s whatever you want it to be, but it’s used to help you transition from one thing to the next. Some people use it at the beginning of their day, after they drop their children off at school and head to work by stopping for coffee. Others may use it at the end of their work day to transition from work brain to home brain, by listening to a funny podcast, or a distracting playlist, or maybe driving in the car in silence. It can be used all day long, basically any time you move from one thing to the next. Shifting gears. Transitioning. When caring for a loved one dealing with chronic illness, there is constant transition. Daily transitions from appointments to home to daily care to ups to downs. Our brains are amazing and actually can take on quite a bit of transition but what if we made it a little easier with a ritual? Especially after stressful experiences that require a lot of energy. Maybe Wednesday’s physical therapy is always stressful, what little thing can you do afterwards to then help you transition to getting home and starting to cook dinner? What helps your brain close one experience, have a little space, and then shift and be ready for the next? You could create a transition ritual playlist, music that helps your brain breathe for a minute. Maybe you have a friend that you check in with to help make the shift. Replenishing with water, coffee, or a snack. Using your thoughts to shift out of one and into the other… “Physical therapy was so hard today. It was exhausting. But it’s done. We are not there anymore. My next step is cooking dinner. In between those two I’m going to take some sips of water, breathe, and listen to my transition ritual song.”
It may be hard to imagine adding one more thing, but these little tools may actually open up even more space. It’s funny how sometimes adding some love and care for yourself can open up time. It can help us be more efficient and gives a little room so that the space being taken up by being tired and worn down can be replaced with more energy for YOU.
If you are a caregiver for a loved one dealing with a chronic illness and would like additional support, there are therapists such as myself that specialize in supporting those dealing with chronic illness and medical trauma. Chronic illness, injury, and rare complex diagnoses impact the entire family. If you are looking for more support, please contact me here. I offer free 15 minute consultations where I’ll try to get an idea of what you are dealing with and how I can help. I can let you know if I think therapy would be a good fit for you. We will get a good sense of each other and can decide if I’m the best fit for you. Together we will make a plan for the next steps.