You are a caregiver and most likely, you are a caregiver that needs help. But, do you ever get tired of well-meaning friends, family members, and health care professionals telling you to take care of yourself, or to be sure to take time out for yourself?
Most people don’t really know how to help a caregiver yet there is no shortage of suggestions.
If you are like most caregivers, chances are, at some point or another, you have been advised to go out for walks or do some other form of exercise; read a magazine or book; go have coffee or tea or lunch with a friend, or maybe have a long, sudsy bath with candles and a glass of wine.
Most people don’t really know how to help a caregiver yet there is no shortage of suggestions, and you are encouraged to choose the self-care activities that fit with what you value most and who you are.
How to self advocate for yourself
Did you know that there’s another way you can help yourself in your role as a caregiver without having to personally take on more activities or responsibilities?
How? By speaking up for yourself and acknowledging that as a caregiver, you need help.
If necessary, even shout out from the rooftops what you need in order to take care of yourself. Get really concrete with specific examples.
For instance, you might need more support from a personal support worker, or from your family. And what would more family support look like?
Family support may involve someone else making (or paying) for meals, cleaning, shopping, or paying for more care services to reduce your workload.
You know what would help you in your role as caregiver. You also know what needs to be done to create the space for self-care. So be your own advocate. Self advocate for self care!
As Maya Angelou said, “I learned a long time ago that the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.”
How to ask for help
A good response when someone says, “take care of yourself” is, “I will, but I need some help in order to make that happen. Here’s what I need help with.”
In your self advocacy, communicate to everyone who may be able to assist you, from family members, friends, and neighbours, to health care professionals, community services, organizations, and even politicians.
Take responsibility for yourself by communicating your needs, but don’t believe for one moment that these needs are exclusively personal.
You may wisely be on your own side, as Angelou puts it, but your self advocacy serves much more than just you - it also serves the person you are caring for and reminds all of us that we are responsible for caring for someone else, in real and concrete ways.
As a social worker who provides support to individuals and their families in the home, I have found that caregivers often receive these well-meaning suggestions or advice from people who lack a real understanding of, and appreciation for, what a day in their life of a caregiver actually looks like.
In addition, statements such as, “remember to take time for yourself” can be heard by caregivers as an additional task to do in their day, which ironically, can add to the sense of overwhelm, stress and guilt.
By being honest and vocal about your caregiver needs, you’re taking a proactive step towards making sure that you are only taking on as much of the caregiving role as you can handle.
I do not want to minimize or downplay the importance and benefits of self-care for caregivers. Self-care is critical to our health and well-being, and for caregivers, self-care can often be one of the first things to sacrifice or let go of in the course of caring for someone else.
You already know that you need to take care of yourself, so the challenge is how to work it into your caregiver routine on top of all your other caregiving responsibilities.
So many times, I’ve heard caregivers saying that they would love nothing more than to sit down with a cup of tea and read for half an hour. “I am not being a martyr,” they tell me, “I just don’t have the time.”
There isn’t an easy solution but self advocacy is a start and perhaps you can find some additional inspiration from some of our Elizz articles on self-care and stress management. Here are a few articles that might interest you:
How self-awareness can help with caregiver stress management
Identifying and managing caregiver stress
Caregivers asking for help – recognizing when you need it