Self-care is one of those topics that is so important, but that can be can kind of meh to keep hearing about, right!? It's the thing that everyone knows they need to do, but if we are being honest, isn't something we are the best at doing or prioritizing. Now, as we know, self-care, in general, is super important for the everyday person, but it's even more important for the dementia care partner. Being a dementia care partner is the ultimate balancing act. Not only must you find time for your partner with dementia, but you must also find time for yourself, your family, and any other responsibilities you may and if you struggle finding balance in managing all this you may find yourself angry, bitter, depressed, lost or just completely over it! Because of this, Dementia care partners are at such an increased risk for anxiety, depression, decreased life satisfaction, and overall negative health changes. I've had many caregivers tell me that at the rate things are going they feel like their partner is going to outlive them. And, unfortunately, this CAN be the case. So what does that mean for you? It means that YOU have to take the initiative and responsibility for YOUR own health and well-being — you have to. Your life literally depends on it! But, this is easier said than done right!? Of course!
So, there's two blocks that we must get rid of when we are talking about self-care:
1) guilt and 2) this belief that you don't have time
There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about taking much needed time for yourself. Your partner will be just fine and guess what they will likely be even better if you take a break. Care partners tend to give their best care when they feel good. If you never make time to refill your cup, your cup is going to end up empty and dry, and guess what? You cannot pour from an empty cup. So, if you are a person who feels guilty taking time away from your partner..... don't — because in the end you are doing the one thing you probably don't want to do which is actually hurting your partner AND hurting yourself! Talk about counterproductive, right?
The next thing is feeling like you don't have time, with so many things going on how on Earth do I find the time, right!? I definitely get, but here's the thing, If you wait until you can find the time for yourself, you may realize that you just can't or rather won't find the time....so what you have to do is MAKE the time. Self-care has to be intentional and it has to be a priority. I've talked previously about just how important and beneficial it is for your partner to have a routine and this applies to you as the care partner as well. You have to throw your self-care into y'all's routine. A big hindrance to this for some people is that when they are thinking of self-care they think too big and extravagant — you deserve this type of self-care too, but what's going to keep you healthy and fresh are going to be those small daily gestures of love. So, in order to do this, we have to reframe the way we think of self-care, okay? So, when you think of self-care, what I want you to think of is, "what can I do today, to show myself a little love and attention?" Again this doesn't have to be major thing, keep it simple, okay, BUT make sure that it's something meaningful that you actually enjoy. For example, taking a quick 5 minute walk can be a perfect idea for self-care, BUT if you hate walking, then don't do that! Pick something you actually care about. We all know exercise is important, but if that's not what rings your bells please don't just do it because you think that's what you should do, okay!?
So, what are some self-care ideas: well, you can dress up for no reason, you can spend some time in the garden (if you have one), read your favorite book, listen, sing, or dance to music, draw, color, paint, meditate or pray, journal, vent to a friend or even just have a normal convo with a friend, indulge in your favorite food, drink, or dessert. Really, anything that will bring you a little peace and a smile. Now, If you keep up with the habit of self-care, all you'll need is 5 to 10 minutes a day. But guess what, if you keep it brief enough, you maybe able to sneak in a few 5 to 10 minute sessions of self-care a day! Because you know what, your partner will be fine for 5 to 10 minutes. And, if you dementia proof your home, which we still need to talk about in a future blog post, you'll feel even better about taking some time away. But, in the meantime, if you feel better about it, you can even do it before they wake up, after they go to bed, or when they take a nap.
Another big thing to consider is respite. Respite is a must. Respite is basically short-term, temporary relief from your duties as a care partner. It could be a couple of hours out of a day, the whole day, a couple of days, or even a week plus. The point is, at some point you need to get help and the ultimate rule of thumb is to take respite BEFORE you feel like you need it. It should be a regularly scheduled event. Every such and such period of time, you need to take a break — non-negotiable. This is where those more extravagant things can happen like running errands for yourself, getting your hair or nails done, taking a painting class, hanging with the girls or guys, anything your heart desires.
If you can.... start with family and friends, but give them ample notice... like.... hey in 2 weeks I'm really wanting to go do this, can you help me out with [fill in the blank]. People are much more likely to help if they have time to prepare themselves. The reality is not everyone is built to be a caregiver and honestly not everyone even wants to...and if we are being even more real this may or may not include you, and that's okay. We sometimes get into situations that we didn't quite sign up for, but yet here we are! Okay? So, my point is ask in advance so that people can mentally prepare themselves and get what they got going on in order. Now, If they aren't available, be sure to search online for organization that can offer free or cheap respite care. Some organizations provide volunteers who can come into your home, there are other services that organizations are able to provide such an adult day center, overnight programs, or some other arrange. You can also try reaching out to your local Alzheimer's Association chapter and see if they have any additional resources or information. The point is get some help and get out of that house!
Other things you may find beneficial is cultivating a daily gratitude practice, again this another one of those "yeah, yeah, yeah" topics, but really guys, it makes a difference. You'd be surprised how expressing daily gratitude, even for the small things can drastically change your perspective and make the dementia care journey just a little bit easier and little less stressful. In general, expressing gratitude can make a us happier, longer, increase mental strength, enhance empathy, decrease aggression, improve energy levels, and promote better sleep. We won't get to deep into gratitude for this blog post, but if going on a gratitude journey is something of particular interest to you, consider downloading our free 30-day gratitude challenge or investing in our 100-day gratitude and self-care journal "Grow With Gratitude." It really is perfect for care partner who are wanting to seek balance on their dementia care journey and there's actually over 100 self-care ideas included in our journal as well.
If you haven't found a support group, please find one. Being a care partner can get really lonely and there comes a point where you may start feeling like no one around you really understands what you are going through. It is so important to find other people who are going through similar difficulties and challenges.
Also consider finding a dementia coach or a dementia care consultant who can help you better navigate the dementia care journey. Unfortunately, Bambu Care is no longer offering consults, but you can always email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will email you back and try to help the best way we can, okay!?
And then above all else, you have to keep yourself close. It is so easy to lose yourself when you life becomes consumed with the care of someone else. You have to keep yourself grounded in who you are. Keep a journal, if it helps, but continue setting short-term and long-term goals for yourself. Please don't give up on your life just because you are a care partner. Life outside of caregiving IS possible, but only for those who are diligent in making it possible. So no, life may not look how you once envisioned it, but you have to try to find a way to still do some of the things that you want to do and that your heart years for — you have to guys!
Big PSA: Do not ignore or neglect your own health while taking care of your partner. If you need to go see a doctor, go do it or look into telehealth options. If you need to seek out professional help from a counselor — do it. Please don't be afraid to seek nor ask for help when you need it. Your life matters too, okay!?
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