This issue came up on Twitter couple of months ago. Some people had a forum on mental health, and the whole thread was about encouraging people and caregivers to be there for their friends always. Fabulous, right? err, no?
My problem with that is the ‘always’ bit. Saying we should always be there for our friends is indirectly saying we should always put them first. Nah, to any one that is currently caring for another individual, be it your friend, family or acquaintance. Please! Please!! Please!!! Put yourself first. Learn to take a step back when it gets overwhelming. Don’t lose yourself in the fire while trying to bring someone else out.
So am I saying we shouldn’t be there for our friends always?
Yes and No. If you have the capability. Sure. But it’s okay to want to take a minute for yourself atimes. It’s okay to not want to listen for a minute. It’s okay to take time out and care for yourself as well. It’s okay to acknowledge your true feelings.
Now let’s get personal..
As a person, I try to be there for people alot. Because I want to. And I know how draining and frustrating that can be at times.
As a person, I know when to step back. I know when it’s getting too much and how to protect my own mental health as well. I know when to reach out to other people and get them to support me because I’m getting too overwhelmed supporting someone else.
That is the whole point of this post. As caregivers, as good friends and most importantly, as listeners. We tend to ignore ourselves, put out lives on hold in order to be there for someone else. As altruistic as this is, it’s really unfair to yourself and these people you are caring for.
I’ve spoken to lots of people that are like me as well. And the general gist is that.. it gets draining. It gets overwhelming. It gets frustrating. And it’s detrimental to their own health.
Now I know most people will have issues against talking about this. Why? Because we don’t want those we are caring for to feel some typa way. We don’t want them to think they are being a burden. We don’t want them to shy away from confiding in us.
As valid as these reasons are, I can tell you for sure that it still doesn’t excuse the fact that you are drowning as well.
So what do we do in order to not push them away and still keep our mental health in check?
- Reach out to other people for help.
- Be honest with them about your feelings.
I know most people will find this hard. But like Aysah (2017) said, ‘you have to put yourself first. Now if you say this majority will think you are being selfish when in reality it is the right thing to do’. It’s better than avoiding their calls, or ignoring their messages. Doing that will send a false signal to them and make them feel like they are a burden to you.
For example, you just failed a very important exam. You are a bit sad, stressed and not in the right place to be there for anyone. Your friend calls and is in tears. She’s talking about giving up, etc. Genuinely, you are not in the right place to be there for them at that point in time. Wouldn’t it be better for you to be honest and refer them to a professional? Or go with them to seek help elsewhere? Rather than you saying the wrong things or coming across as insensitive or doing things that’ll give them vibes that you ain’t really with them?
Taking care of yourself benefits the person you’re caring for
A lot of caregivers think that taking out time for themselves to rest or have fun with their friends makes them selfish because there is someone who needs them 24/7. This is absolutely not the case! Caring for yourself is the most important—and often the most forgotten—thing you can do as a caregiver. There is a reason why the flight attendants tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting someone else! When your needs are taken care of, then the person you are caring for will benefit too. In other words, the care you give to yourself is the care you give to your loved ones. (www.drnorthrup.com/)
Today, I give you permission to take good care of yourself and make yourself first. Everyday. Yes, everyday! The person you’re caring for will thank you for this…or maybe not. However, it’s no use working yourself to the bone for weeks, then getting sick. Caring for yourself everyday is the only way to keep taking care of your loved ones for a very long time.
Self care practices for caregivers
- Learn and use stress-reduction techniques, e.g. meditation, prayer, yoga, music.
- Attend to your own healthcare needs. This is super important
- Get proper rest and nutrition.
- Exercise regularly, even if only for 10 minutes at a time.
- Take time off without feeling guilty.
- Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities, such as reading a good book, taking a warm bath.
- Seek and accept the support of others.
- Seek supportive counseling when you need it, or talk to a trusted counselor, friend, or pastor.
- Identify and acknowledge your feelings, you have a right to ALL of them.
- Change the negative ways you view situations.
- Set goals.
Carers need help as well. They need to be heard. They need to be supported. They need to talk over things as well. They need to be encouraged.
For every caregiver out there, be it mental health or physical health. Your health matters too. Seek help. Reach out. And breathe.
Feel free to reach out to us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or DM @mentallyAwareng on Twitter if you need to vent. It’s okay to need a break. Don’t feel guilty when you feel overwhelmed.
Please know that it is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver—itʼs an important part of the job. You are responsible for your own self-care.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF