Self-care for caring people
Caring people are, by definition, “givers”. Aptly termed “caregivers” when taking care of others as a job, some find themselves evolving into this role in their everyday relationships. Whether they’re care-givers professionally (health-care, teachers, administrative support) or care-givers in a family or with friends, most of their time is focused on meeting the needs of the people they give to.
Care-givers are typically busy people who fit more into one day than other people would try to do in a whole week. They just keep going and going, and somehow they manage to get it all done.
If this sounds like something you can relate to, this kind of constant stress can be hard on you – physically you may feel exhausted, emotionally you may feel anxious, and mentally you may feel scattered.
Over time, care-givers spend so much energy keeping up with this pace that they have nothing left for themselves, leading to a serious condition called burnout and feeling depleted.
Common signs of burnout in care-givers
Physically, you feel exhausted and rundown and you've been more susceptible to colds and other illness. You may have more aches and pains and difficulty sleeping. You may be clumsier and more prone to accidents.
Emotionally, you tend to take a negative viewpoint. You may feel hopeless about your situation and very alone. It will be much harder for you to connect with others (including the people you are caring for). You often seem to be putting your foot in your mouth – you didn't think you said anything wrong, but you get emotional reactions that you didn't expect, impairing relationships.
Here is where you see that in your very noble efforts to be the very best friend, professional, family member you could, you actually made it more difficult for yourself to do that! You simply can't give from an empty well.
Unhealthy, even self-destructive, behaviors may be another symptom of burnout. You may be using food as a means of control or comfort, or even as a way of punishing yourself because you don't feel like you're doing a good enough job taking care of others. You may be using other forms of escapism, like watching more TV, procrastination, drugs or alcohol.
Why self-care is important
Whether you're headed towards burnout or already there, self-care can start to restore your mind, body and soul.
Doing self-caring things for yourself promotes healthy self-esteem because you are sending the message to yourself that you are worth taking care of!
Practicing self-care will recharge your battery so that you have much more to give to others and so that you start feeling better physically.
Your personal self-care prescription
For one person, self-care can be the simplest act of making the bed so it is nice for you when you get in it again at night. For someone else, it's a bubble bath with a full glow of candles and mood music, or it's taking a break from work (and care-giving) for a vacation. You may wish to revisit our March 2009 issue for some ideas for bringing stillness into your day.
Along with these important forms of physical, spiritual and emotional self-care, we at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center also encourage you to practice good nutritional self-care – choosing the foods and eating behaviors that will nourish you and not harm you.
Whatever self-care means to you, what's most important is to give yourself the time to make it a part of your life.
Living a self-caring life
Self-care includes the people we choose to spend the most time with. Where possible, we want to surround ourselves with supportive people and protect our healthy relationships with good communication skills.
That doesn't mean you always have to agree or stay silent instead of standing up for yourself. You can practice speaking your truth with kindness and compassion. When you don’t take the opportunity to express your perspective, you quietly build animosity. This leads back to feeling depleted…
When you do notice that a certain relationship in your life feels "toxic" or harmful to you, it can be helpful to look at what you might be getting out of it. For example, listening to someone complain all of the time might be annoying, but it also might make you feel better about your own problems. Or it may feel nice to seemingly feel needed by them.
Sometimes the best choice may be to walk away from the relationship, other times you may work on improving it. In either case, look for some support and an objective opinion from outside of the relationship.
Are you currently practicing good self-care?
This is a good time for self-examination. Are you taking care of yourself? We all need to nurture and care for ourselves as we would a small child or our best friend. If we're hurting ourselves in any way, we need to find a way to stop, often with the help of others. And we need to make sure we are doing kind and self-caring things for ourselves every single day. Consider checking in with your counselor or support group to see if you are getting enough for yourself before you give so much to others.