Written by Madeleine Buchner, Founder and CEO of Little Dreamers Australia
There is a serious dilemma when it comes to being a carer. See, when you’re a carer you have specific personality traits…carers are usually selfless, resilient and able to handle more than their fair share. Carers are very good at taking care of others. They know when to give medicine, how to shower others, and when to just sit there are provide emotional support. Carers know how to manage their time effectively, how to be resourceful and how to make the most out of difficult situations. But one thing we often find that carers struggle with is how to take care of themselves too.
When we talk to carers about what they do for themselves many reply with “I take a long bath” or “I go to the gym” or “I like to go for long walks”. When we follow that question up with how often do you actually do those things to take care of yourself? many will struggle to answer. “Maybe once a month” “things have been really crazy at our place lately” “whenever we have someone else that can watch the person I care for”. What stresses me out about these responses is that in reality, carers are finding it very difficult to take care of themselves.If you jump onto Google and search “Carers and self care” you will find 822,000 pages and articles regarding strategies for practicing self care when you are caring for someone with a mental illness, stroke, cancer, an eating disorder and more. These resources might say things like:
- Eat health
- Aim for 8 hours sleep a night
- Take up a new hobby
- Relax regularly
- Manage your time effectively
- Keep your friends close
- Pamper yourself
And while these are some great tips, tricks and strategies – ones that will definitely work at particular times depending on the intensity of the caring role you have, I do not believe that they cover the main things we need to think about when talking about self care.
So here are my five steps towards self care:
- Understand and start to believe that life doesn’t have to be perfect
Believing that you need to have everything together all the time doesn’t do great things for anyone’s mental health let alone someone who is caring for someone else majority of the time. There may be times when, put simply, things suck. People are sick, money is tight, things just aren’t going to plan. THESE THINGS HAPPEN. Growing up I always felt the need to show the outside world that everything was ok no matter what. The moment I stopped thinking like this and realised that it was ok to tell people that there was shit going on and that everything was not ok it was like a wave of relief spread through me. Going against the norm of giving off this “Instagram Friendly” lifestyle is hard, and it takes guts to do it and to show the reality of the situation – but we know that carers have that resilience thing down pat already.
2. A great list never hurt nobody
I am a list maker. A list for everything and for every day. I use Trello to manage all of my lists and it helps me to find clarity in what is going in my brain. It helps me to compartmentalise and work out what in my brain actually needs to take effort and needs action compared to the rest of the fluff in their taking up space. Some people find it easier to handwrite the list, others like to have it on a screen – either way I believe in the power of the list and the positive reinforcement that comes with ticking things off (I opt for red pen for my ticking needs and highlight for my prioritisation).
P.S. Give Bullet Journaling a shot if you’re feeling more creative.
3. Ask for help
There is no shame is saying that you need help. Whether that is calling up a friend or family member and asking if they have any leftovers they could give you so you don’t have to cook…or calling up a professional organisation and asking for some respite, there are many different options available. Asking for help is something that everyone struggles with – according to society it shows weakness. But if you think about it, I believe it actually shows more strength than anything else. Coming to the realisation that you cannot do it all on your own is a big one and one that everyone should be proud of.So what are the next steps? Where do you start? Well I’m a big list maker so I always start with that one. I break everything down into small parts so I can regularly tick things off rather than needing to finish the whole thing to count it as being done. I challenge myself daily and remind myself that it’s ok to fail and make mistakes. In fact, it’s the best way to learn.
So I’m off to write todays list. How are you going to make the most of today?