By Sheri Sellars, BSN, RN
Nicholson Clinic Nurse Educator
Do you spend all of your time caring for and looking after others, leaving little time for yourself? What if you became empowered to take care of yourself? How could it impact your own health and wellness?
There is a lot of attention paid these days to the idea of mindfulness and self-care, particularly as relates to those who spend their time caring for others. This is a healthy and useful movement that can lead to an increased quality of life and islands of inner peace and happiness. What if, however, you have no idea how to do this?
Life can be overwhelming, particularly if you are the caregiver for another, such as children or an aging spouse or parent. Many of us have no practice in living purposefully, with a busy world that overwhelms us and takes over from day to day, until we are simply surviving rather than thriving. Ultimately, everyone benefits if we take care of ourselves inside and out, leaving a greater reservoir of emotional and physical resources to utilize when caring for our families and a greater sense of satisfaction, both in the work that occupies our days as well as the leisure time we seek.
Below are beginning tenets of self-care that can help you prioritize your own needs and create mental awareness of what those needs are.
Befriend Yourself — The beginning of self-care has as its foundation the necessity of realizing you are both deserving of and worthy of time and attention, not only from others but also from yourself. This requires you to recognize that you matter. All of those whom occupy your thoughts and time need you. This alone underlines your importance. Be on your own side and give yourself the kind of credit that you would for relatives or friends who make the kinds of efforts and sacrifices that you do. Your life’s work is important and you are worthy of your own affection.
Self-Compassion — Everyone lives with regrets, some long-standing and others that crop up in the day-to-day dealings of life. Moments of impatience, anger or disenchantment can lead to a vicious cycle, where exhaustion fuels one, which then fuels further exhaustion. When you find yourself musing over the frailties of the day, respond to yourself in a compassionate way. Turn these experiences into inner strength, both by giving yourself credit for recognizing things are not necessarily how you would like them to be and through performance of a root cause analysis that can help you identify how to avoid breakdowns between intentions and actions in the future. Remember, you can be your own friend. Generosity of spirit toward yourself creates an inner mental environment in which you can honestly assess contributing factors, such as fatigue, stress, anger management, etc, and then more openly recognize what may help you cope better in the future. Turn guilt into empowerment.
Acceptance — A large part of self-compassion relies on being truthful to yourself. Perhaps you aren’t enjoying this phase in your child’s life. Perhaps your spouse’s work schedule has left you without adequate support. Not every season of life will be sunshine and roses. Admitting this to yourself provides opportunity to honor your pain and extend forgiveness and compassion for your natural reaction to less than ideal circumstances. This, in turn, provides opportunity to recognize and accept life as it is, rather than as we wish it were. Focusing on the truthful reality removes the angst that comes with “might have been.” From this, resolutions for coping can grow.
Enjoy Life —This tenet may seem insultingly simplified, particularly during times when things are hard. However, the desire to enjoy life asks the question “What would make today better?” Identify what would help you enjoy the day more by setting intentions. Be realistic, specific and keep it simple. Engage the help of others and tap into resources without guilt or guile.
By exploring the role of self-care, you can increase your energy, find inner contentment, increase life expectancy and add joy to your days. Ultimately, all those you care for benefit, not only from your ability to keep going but also from the example you set.