Lack of self-kindness can lead to the loss of identity, the blues, symptoms of depression, or a medical diagnosis of depression. You don’t need any of these things at this time of life. Instead, identify the self-kindness steps that work for you–a trial and error process. While you’re figuring this out, you need to continue to be a caregiver and take care of yourself.
Like buying new shoes, you have to “try on” self-kindness. You may eat lunch out with a friend for weeks, until you realize this is costly self-kindness. A new hobby may grab your attention until you realize you don’t like it. Getting together with family members can be self-kindness, but this is difficult if relatives live far away, and your meetings are few.
Whether you are a volunteer family caregiver or a paid health care professional, each caregiver has to determine the self-kindness steps that work for them. I’m in my 19th year of caregiving and am also a health and wellness writer. To produce articles and books I need time for thought and research. Therefore, I build quiet time into every day. In fact, quiet is my top self-kindness step.
Mike O’Connor cites examples of self-kindness in his article, “40 Ways to Practice Self-Kindness,” posted on the Kindness blog. Some ideas, such as drinking plenty of water, sound simple. In reality, staying hydrated is crucial to good health. Another of his suggestions is to learn to accept compliments and resist the urge to deny them. Being emotionally honest, asking for help, mindful eating, and limiting the time we spend with difficult people are more of his suggestions.
The question is, “What works best for me? You may have to get better at self-talk, for example. At the end of the day, if you find your thoughts slipping into the negative zone, counter these thoughts with positive ones. Doing this takes practice. Focusing on the benefits of caregiving can be helpful. Remember, you’re making a difference in someone’s life.
Be willing to change course. Keeping a self-kindness step that doesn’t make you feel better is a waste of your time and energy. Nix that step from your list and head in a new direction. You may be stymied on this direction and, if so, ask a caregiver friend, or member of your support group, or a member of an online support group, for some ideas.
In their book, The Tough and Tender Caregiver, David A. Travland, PhD and Rhonda Travland compare the caregiver’s needs to the care receiver’s needs. “If the caregiver cannot continue to be a whole person,” they write, “he or she is not going to be much good as a caregiver.” The goal of self-kindness is to keep what makes you the person you are, and energize you for the weeks ahead.
You are worthy of this goal. In order to reach it you need to be mindful of your feelings. Determine which self-kindness steps work best for you and stick with them. You may also wish to put these steps in writing and post them on the refrigerator door. The best person to practice self-kindness is you.