Our lives are more hectic now than they have ever been, particularly when it comes to caregiving. It doesn’t matter whether we are caring for children, a family member or trying to cope with chronic illnesses, but managing all of this on top of working, keeping a house running and all those small daily tasks that need to be done means that we generally push self-care to the bottom of a never-ending pile.
However, self-care is crucial to our wellbeing and mental health. Constantly working until we drop, not sleeping enough and being so worn out from putting everyone before ourselves is not only going to cause stress levels to rise, it will lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness and put pressure on your cardiovascular system causing high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and chest pain. On top of all of these physical symptoms, you will find that all these added activities mean that more than likely you are not living your life how you want to, you are just existing from one day to the next.
Learning to say no is probably one of the hardest things that can learn to do, particularly when it involves family or friends who like to take more than they give. In saying that, having the ability to say no to something that doesn’t serve you is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.
What Is Stress?
Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” I have no doubt that we all know what stress is and we have all probably experienced it at some time or another in our life. In fact, it is actually important for us to experience stress as it is key to our survival. However, too much stress on our body can cause a litany of detrimental effects including weakening the immune system, depression, anxiety and high blood pressure, to name just a few. Stress that lingers for weeks and months will not only affect our physical health but cause additional pressure on our mental health, which in turn puts further stress on us, physically. A vicious cycle ensues and it can be so difficult to break out of this pattern.
Whilst stress can have a negative impact in large doses, on a smaller scale it can motivate us to achieve our daily goals and smaller challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis. Whether you are facing long-term stress related to being a caregiver or coping with a chronic illness or the only stresses you currently face is as a result of your day to day life, it is important to know how to cope with and carve out time for yourself and practice self-care.
Stress As A Caregiver
Being a caregiver to a family member is generally borne from our want to care for those that have cared for us. It can come with many rewards and the knowledge that we are allowing our family member to remain in their own home is one that many people take huge comfort from. However, just because you are choosing to care for someone does not mean that you are exempt from the stresses and strains that go hand in hand with being a full-time caregiver. The shift in roles and responsibility can be difficult to cope with and can add stress and strain in ways you may never have thought of.
Taking on the care of someone who may have several complex medical needs and requires to be managed by more than one medical team and has to attend medical appointments regularly can have huge implications for a caregiver who is already leading their own life. Having no contact with others in a similar position can just compound the exhaustion, loneliness and frustration that you experience, which in turn leads to more stress. Whilst I always encourage people to attend support groups to allow them to connect and learn from people who are experiencing similar situations, I also encourage them to practice self-care regularly to help reduce the physical and mental effects of stress and that they get into the habit of regularly carving time out for themselves.
Side Effects of Stress
We are now aware that there are two types of stress that we can deal with – daily stressors of life, which is needed for us to function. We refer to this as the ‘good’ stress. The ‘bad’ stress is long-term over weeks, months and sometimes years and it has a detrimental effect on not only our mental health but our physical health too. Do you know how to recognise what stress looks like when it is shown as physical systems? A handy tip is to pin, screenshot or save the graphic below so that you have it to hand should you ever need it.
If you don’t know by now, self-care is any activity that we do deliberately which has a positive impact on our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. In recent years, it seems that self-care has become a bit of a buzzword and it has been used to sell many different products, ideas and lifestyles, however, the concept has been around for a long time and chances are you are partaking in it without even realising. Every time you do something to make yourself feel better it is considered to be self-care.
As a caregiver, it is vital that self-care is built into your daily routine. Doing it when you remember is fine, but wouldn’t it be amazing to know that you have those 10 (or more) minutes to yourself every day to ensure that your mind is clear and that your only focus is yourself? When we care for others, be it our children or our parents, we tend to put everyone’s needs ahead of ours and before we know it 6 weeks have gone by and the only time you get to yourself is when you are on the toilet and even then it can be difficult.
Doing something for yourself doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to leave the house if you don’t want to, or can’t and you don’t need to spend money. What you do need to do is ensure that you schedule your self -care into your day so that you don’t forget about it. I have created a download that you can put on your fridge, or your desk or in your diary. It gives you space to add in your self-care tasks and track how often you get to do them each week. Research suggests that it takes 21 days to form a habit, so if you stick to tracking your self-care activities over the next 3 weeks, they will become part of your daily routine from there on in.
When you are deciding on which tasks are best for you, have a think about what you would like to do for yourself or maybe what you currently have to rush to get through. From here you can put a plan in place. Some examples of activities are:
- daily shower
- facial cleansing routine
- weekly/fortnightly/monthly beauty appointment
- call a friend
- write a letter
I am a caregiver. I go out to work and care for people and then come home and care for my family. Somedays (and weeks) constantly giving myself to others and tending to their needs non-stop is incredibly difficult and tiring. Whilst I would never change what I do for the world, spending my life taking on the problems of others and helping them to adjust, fix and solve leaves me with nothing to give to my own family and I don’t like feeling that way. In recent months I have found that spending time meditating between leaving work and coming home to be a fantastic way of leaving my work stress behind me and allowing myself to give 100% to Alex, Emma and Michael.
Want to begin meditating but don’t know where to start? Check out this YouTube Video.
Relaxation is something that I have been doing since I was a student nurse. When I worked in acute mental health facilities, relaxation therapy was part of our daily care plan for the majority of clients. Initially, it can be hard to get into the habit of clearing your mind completely and focusing on your breathing and muscles but once you start doing it, the benefits are great. My muscles are always tense and my shoulders reside around my ears but when I regularly practice relaxation, the relief that I feel physically and mentally is fantastic. I use the Feel Stress-Free app for relaxation. There is a monthly charge but it is designed by mental health professionals, which is important to me. When I am deciding upon services that impact my health in any aspect, I like to know that they have a scientific basis behind them. What appealed to me most about Feel Stress-Free is that it is evidence-based which can help with stress, anxiety and related conditions.
My brain is constantly working at 100 miles a minute. I have been known to have 4 conversations at once where I jump back and forth and leave the poor person I am speaking with completely confused (and more than likely suffering with a dreadful headache!). I need to spend some time every day when my brain switches off completely. I like to colour during this time as it doesn’t take much brain power. Some of my favourite colouring books are Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland and swear words – there is nothing I love more than colouring in the word shit!
Some people find that during the practice of self-care, they read books on self-development and furthering themselves and their abilities. For me, I just want to read. I love reading just about any genre and books have always given me the ability to get completely lost in the story, so this is the perfect way for me to spend time. I will mention that I try to give myself more than 10 minutes for reading otherwise it eats into my entire day as I get so caught up in the book. Reading is definitely my favourite method of self-care. It can be done anytime, anywhere and all I need to have with me is my phone.
I never swam much when we were in Ireland, but since we came to Cyprus I have fallen in love with the water. With a body that is constantly in pain, the only time I get proper relief is when I am weightless in the water. Not only is swimming part of my self-care plan, but it is also part of my physiotherapy plan. Spending 20 minutes in the sea every morning really improves my mood for the rest of the day and allows me to start my day off with some me time. It ensures that I can give the best of myself to those I love, support and care for each day.
Whether I talk with a professional or a friend (or even myself sometimes) I find that it is beneficial to speak my concerns, worries and just want is going on in my life, out loud. I can work through any problems or stressors that I have and more often than not, I able to find the conclusion on my own. Sometimes it is more beneficial to speak with a professional in the beginning, depending on what your current situation and mental health is like. If you feel like you would benefit from speaking with more than just your friends and family, it may be worth speaking with your GP or primary care physician to discuss the best options for you.