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Why is it so easy to forget about your own self-care?

Posted Monday November 06, 2017

Posted By: Christine Taylor

Category: General

Taking care of a person living with mental illness or experiencing mental health challenges can be both rewarding and stressful.  As a caregiver for someone with a mental illness you will learn new skills and build a stronger relationship with the person – child, youth, adult, or older adult you care for. As you take on new responsibilities, it is important to take care of yourself during this demanding time.  Just as in the pre-flight instructions, you should put on your own oxygen mask before helping another person put on theirs –caregivers need to take care of themselves before they can take care of someone else. 

“I feel guilty taking time for myself, what helped was remembering that I’m a person too with needs and with limits.” Pierre, Caregiver

Stress is a natural part of life, but if not managed well, it can lead to your own health challenges. Caregivers often focus on the person they care for more than themselves, putting themselves as a second priority – this is completely natural. The most important thing to remember as a caregiver is to take care of YOU. Actions we take to take care of our health and wellbeing are known as self-care. 

Why is it so easy to forget about your own self-care?  Some common barriers include:

  • Your own attitudes and beliefs: “I’m being selfish if I sleep in late today.”
  • Being afraid of what you need: “I’m feeling over-worked, I need time off but can’t take leave.
  • Being afraid or not knowing where or how to ask for help: “I don’t want to bother them, they have their own problems.
  • Wanting to care and show your affections in a selfless way (common with family caregivers): “He’s my son, he’s my priority.

Each caregiver’s experience is unique; from the person they care for to their specific responsibilities, no two caregivers are the same. Some caregivers provide continuous support for a family member who lives in their home, while others may help someone with occasional periods of mental distress. Whether you are providing long-term support or short-term care, your role is important and valued.

When thinking about your own mental health or the mental health of a loved one, it is important to recognize that good mental health is about living well and feeling capable despite challenges. People who live with mental illness can, and do, thrive just as people without a mental illness may experience poor mental health.

For example, taking time to reflect on “where you’re at” can be helpful to your self-care.  This can include thinking about what you are feeling, where are you feeling it in your body, what helps you feel positive or negative, what is going well, what could have gone better and also identifying the help you need. 

It is normal to have lots of different feelings and they are not right or wrong – they are your own.  Let yourself feel your emotions and try to not judge them but rather accept them.  Acceptance will let you confront these feelings and what they mean to you, how they affect your actions and even affect the individual you care for. 

The Mental Health Caregiver Guide, was created to help you care for yourself and your own mental health while recognizing the responsibilities you have caring for someone else be it a child, youth, adult, or older adult. It contains practical tips and positive coping strategies to add to your existing “toolbox”. Use these tools to help support you and the person you care for along this journey.  You may also want to view a video developed by Ottawa Public Health as part of the have THAT talk campaign, which focuses on the Caregiver. 

Source: Ottawa Public Health; Canadian Mental Health Association; Canadian Public Health Association; Mental Illness Caregivers Association; Military Family Services. Mental Health Caregiver Guide: A guide for caregivers of persons living with mental illness or experiencing mental health challenges.  Ottawa, ON: Ottawa Public Health; 2016.

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