What’s your self care plan?

“It isn’t easy to prioritize self-care if you feel like it’s something frivolous, indulgent, or even selfish. When it is too narrowly defined and seems to be more about pampering yourself with luxury goods or spa treatments than actually replenishing yourself in any meaningful way, it can sound pretty frivolous,” says Ann Douglas in her book Happy Parents Happy Kids.

Ann has also been a caregiver, so she understands that self-care is easier said than done. She, along with two other caregivers, sat down with The Ontario Caregiver Organization to share self-care stories on April 2, Caregiver Day.

Why can it be so hard for caregivers to introduce self-care? Or get back to a self-care routine that has been paused? Why does it feel like a struggle to meet some of our own needs, as well as the needs of someone we’re caring for?

Ann says that we need a change in mindset. Self-care doesn’t have to be a huge luxury, just nurturing to you. Adding just 10 minutes between activities or errands can make for an easier transition to the next activity. Even if that means just sitting in your car outside of your house, those few minutes alone can help you to recharge. 

Ann Douglas: It takes a village

Some of us are lucky enough to have a ready-made village that supports us, whether friends, family members or service providers. Others don’t.

Ann explains that a good way to build that village from scratch is to talk to your doctor’s office or your health unit and find out what services and communities are already available near you. Maybe there’s a caregiver support phone line. Maybe there’s a meeting or a group or a book club.

These are all resources that caregivers should consider tapping into to grow their village. The Ontario Caregiver Organization has a list of resources on our website to help caregivers connect with supports available in your community.

Sonya K. Singh: Connect with other caregivers

Sonya K. Singh, caregiver and author of Lightning Strikes Twice, wants caregivers across the country to appreciate themselves and everything they are doing.

She was a caregiver to both her parents who suddenly became unable to care for themselves mere months apart. Her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and her mother was in an accident that led to extensive burns to her body. She wants other caregivers to learn from her journey.

“During my caregiving journey, I felt a lot of strain because I didn’t take time out for myself and I didn’t take self-care,” she says. “At the time, I didn’t realize that caregiving is actually an organization and that millions of people are going through it.”

She recommends using social media to connect with other caregivers, share experiences and to find resources.  She came to realize that by taking time for yourself to practice self-care means  you’re doing the best job you can to be a caregiver to the person or family member that you’re taking care of.

So just imagine that with every minute you take for yourself, you’re becoming a better caregiver to the person you’re supporting.

Jacqueline Cruickshank: Meditation and Breathing 

Meditation and breathing exercises are simple but effective self-care tools, explains caregiver and yoga and meditation instructor, Jacqueline Cruickshank. There are a variety of different techniques that can fit flexibly into a caregiver’s busy schedule. No yoga pants required!

She took a moment to share two of her favourite do-anywhere exercises with us: the 4×4 Breath and the Thymus Thump.  

4×4 Breath

This is a simple breathing exercise to help reduce stress, lower heart rate, and bring relief from worry. You can do it anywhere and it costs nothing.

  1. Sit tall with your eyes closed.
  2. Take a long inhale through the nose for a count of four. Inhale 1-2-3-4.
  3. Hold the breath in and count to four 1-2-3-4.
  4. Slowly let the breath out on your exhale through the nose, counting to four 1-2-3-4.
  5. Finally, hold the breath out of the body and again count to four 1-2-3-4.

You can repeat this as many times as you like. For optimal results set a timer and do this breath pattern for 5 minutes in the morning and before bed.

Another way to fit it into your day is to place “breath stickers” around your house, car and workspace. When you see the stickers, stop and practice four rounds of your 4×4 Breath.

Thymus Thump

Your thymus gland is located just behind your sternum or breastbone and is a part of your immune system. Tapping this area in the centre of your chest can help to release fear and relax the mind and body, especially in stressful times.

“Sometimes when the heart is beating quickly and I feel anxious,” says Jacqueline, “I’ll use this technique to calm me down and bring me back into a more grounded state of awareness, where I can then respond versus react to the situation at hand. It gives me mental space.”

To do the Thymus Thump, first, make a first and then thump (tap) your chest over the breastbone for about 30 seconds or 60-100 times. 

You don’t need to tap hard, just create a nice rhythm. Some people like to count their taps so their mind stays focused on the present.

It can also help to start with a deep breath before you begin, and finish with a deep breath after, says Jacqueline. She likes to finish by placing her hands on her heart and closing her eyes. 

“Sometimes I offer gratitude or ask for guidance with something I’m struggling with. Sometimes I just feel and connect with my own heart.”

Everybody’s caregiver journey is different

What we find stressful and what we find easy is different for everybody. It’s the same with self-care. Take time to experiment with different activities that nourish you. Find different ways you can bring yourself peace when you’re busy, joy when you’re down, and energy when you’re tired.

These self-care techniques and stories may work for you, or you may find other ways to take care of yourself. When you do, share your caregiver self-care story with your community, your caregiving peers and with all of us on Facebook and Twitter.

Remember, every minute you invest in caring for yourself, you’re becoming better at caring for someone else. What’s your self-care plan?