There are lots of challenges with being a caregiver, especially to a loved one. If you are one, then I do not have to tell you what that’s like, so I will spare the details here. However, what I will do is go over some useful ways to take care of yourself as a current caregiver and for after.
I’m sure we can agree that the role of a caregiver can bring on lots of stress that you never dreamed of experiencing. Depending on how long you have been in that role depends on the long term effects, which can be deep and potent.
There are several options you can add to your toolkit for your self-care. The ones we will discuss and provide resources for are:
Seeing a Psychotherapist
I am purposefully starting with psychotherapy. Much of what caregivers go through will affect the psyche more noticeably. There is so much distraction with the loving work that you do, that mentally processing everything in such a concentrated moment can make you feel disconnected to your sense of self.
Seeing a psychotherapist does not mean that you are “crazy”, and there is nothing to be ashamed about. As a caregiver, we tend to hold a lot inside of our minds, including the posture we have to hold to keep the ones we care for calm and encouraged. We also hold in frustration, irritation, anger, sadness, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
These emotions can get worse when dealing with medical and insurance professionals who give us a hard time. Which is such a shame since the whole point of their job is to care for our loved ones and make their lives better.
We hold in toxic feelings of when we don’t have the freedom to live our lives, or when our loved ones are hard to deal with. And, when those we cared for has passed on, there is a risk of feeling guilty for what we thought we could have done better.
Seeing a professional and licensed psychotherapist can help sort out, process and release these feelings. You get the opportunity to discover and work through what is eating at you in from the inside through talk therapy. Psychotherapy gives you the comfort of being honest about your feelings. The therapist will guide you with developing a strategy to deal with them as they happen in the moment.
Please keep in mind that there is a big difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist. I recommend a Psychologist. Their field of concentration is vast. However, finding a Psychotherapist or a counselor will benefit you more. Be sure to explore the resources below to start your search.
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- United States Association of Body Psychotherapy (USABP)
- American Counseling Association
- Psychology Today
- American Academy of Psychotherapist
Maybe you’ve thought about getting a massage. Maybe you haven’t, but massage authentically is a therapy that is two in one. It helps the body and the mind. As you know, being a caregiver is more than just making sure that a loved one keeps up with doctors appointments and remembering to take medication.
Some caregivers have to be physical by lifting loved ones, helping them up and down stairs. Caregivers, will at times, have to physically protect the one they care for when their disease or side effects from medications make them on the aggressive side (for example what can happen with dementia patients). But even those who do not have to provide physical assistance, being a caregiver can also affect the body through stress.
When you are, unconsciously, holding the body in such a way as the result of mental protection or anticipating something physically happening the muscles tense up and become fatigued.
Massage takes care of the sore and expended muscles that have lifted another adult person. Stress can get so bad, that the muscles feel like they have been physically lifting. Massage will soothe stressed muscles. It addresses any injuries that may have gone unnoticed. It also relaxes the mind and encourages the reduction of anxiety, depression, and mental fatigue.
Massage deeply communicates to the muscles and reminds them of their natural relaxed state. This provides an opportunity for your whole system to reset. Systems including the nerves, hormones, circulation, and brain function. It is also an opportunity for detoxifying through the lymph system.
Massage Therapy Resources
- American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA)
- National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork
In this situation, Reiki is like an energy cleanser and recharger. This modality uses little to no touch. The focus is on the energy field of a person, both inside and out. For some reason in our culture, physical actions make us feel like something is being done. As a therapist who provides this modality, I witness this expectation a lot. It is not until the person gets on the massage table and let go of all expectation then fall asleep. After the session, they arise feeling more refreshed than any “good” nights sleep they thought they ever had.
When it comes to physical and mental stress, mental fog, exhaustion and being overwhelmed Reiki is the perfect solution. You get time for yourself and time to just lay with no need to have to do anything. Your mind lets go, your body can rest, the muscles let go, and you get rejuvenation throughout. As a caregiver, this is extremely important.
The nervous system gets a break and goes back to stasis. The hormones can function the way they are supposed to. Plus, the brain gets a chance to be calmed with nothing to have to think about for that moment.
Get into Yoga
Starting a yoga practice is great. This practice can help mind, body, and soul (or spirit as I like to say). The best thing about yoga is that there are options. You can do classes with a group, yoga therapy, or from home via online classes. It is all up to you. So let’s break those down.
Yoga at a Studio
The benefit of doing yoga classes at a yoga studio with a group of people is that, when you are new to it, you can get hands-on help from the instructor. You also feel like you are a part of a supportive community. That part is what I like about being in the yoga world. People are encouraged to be as one community. This can make you feel a part of the group and can make you feel that deep sense of support a caregiver tends to need. So that is a plus.
Yoga therapy is awesome for when you need to work on specific issues or challenges. You get one on one assistance with the instructor to make your yoga practice more personal to you.
At one point, some people may have considered one on one yoga (between an instructor and student) as being yoga therapy. However, in more recent times Yoga Therapy is even more therapeutic.
There are now official and certified programs for yoga therapy. Meaning, not just anyone can offer it. There is now university status at a master’s level for this modality. The best part about that is whether your challenge is a health condition, limited mobility, or mental-emotional issues you need help with; a certified yoga therapist can be a great option.
However, if you do not have the income or time for the first two options there is the option of doing yoga from a DVD or (nowadays) from online. The benefit of this option is that you can do it at your own pace. This option allows you to practice in your own environment where you don’t feel like you are being judged (even though most yoga studios would make sure a cliquish or judgemental atmosphere does not happen).
The best part of doing yoga online is that you can do it from anywhere. If you need to spend days with your loved one in the hospital, you can do it from your smartphone. If you are, all of a sudden, requested to live with that loved one for a while or can’t leave them by themselves you can do it by casting a class to a smart tv or a tablet while they are taking a nap. Either way, it is possible.
Yoga and Yoga Therapy Resources
- Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
- Yoga Alliance
- International Association of Yoga Therapist (IAYT)
- BurnAlong Online Fitness
Craniosacral, Meditation, and Yoga Nidra
The other three options I have on the list above I will lump together. Each of them (along with the other modalities explained in this article) are great for having a way to release stress and get back into the right frame of mind.
This modality to a form of energy work (in the same category as Reiki) that works a little more on a physical level. It works with the bodies system that is in the name: Cranium and Sacrum. Actually, the area between those two points. There is a fluid that runs up and down the spine and around the brain that is called the cerebrospinal fluid.
Craniosacral is very gentle (non-invasive). It uses specific hands-on methods as a way to evaluate and know what the body’s systems need for healing. This method respects the fact that the body, itself, is very intelligent and knows how to heal on its own. Craniosacral provides the space and guidance to do so. It is also good for pain reduction.
There are different schools and training for craniosacral, but the official ones maintain the original integrity of the art. This modality was pioneered by Dr. John E. Upledger. Authentic training in his style is still available. So finding a therapist who has trained under this method will be ideal. Learn more about the background.
This practice is more well known in the yoga field, but it also has a field of its own. Meditation improves mental (cognitive) focus. It guides the mind and body into deep relaxation for rejuvenation and function improvement. It allows you to make space for letting go of worrying thoughts.
There are multiple styles of meditation that help with different things that are perfect for caregivers (too many to mention here). There is guided meditation that is conducted by a practitioner and there is simple meditation that you can do on your own from anywhere. You can search online to get a sense of what’s out there, but it may be more helpful to ask a yoga practitioner.
Yoga Nidra is not a very well know modality, but it is very powerful. It is a caregiver’s most important tool. It is like taking a mega power nap that rests your whole circuitry. After doing this modality you will feel balanced and restored.
Typically, Yoga Nidra is done on the floor on a yoga mat. You are given full permission to totally let go and let relaxation take over. Imagine after a full day of emotionally and physically being there for the one you are taking care of, then you are given trusted permission to let go. Now that is like a dream come true. Afterward, you will have so much energy to do what needs to be done.
“Divine Sleep® Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation that has the power to transform, heal and rejuvenate you at core levels. Through the use of body sensing, breath awareness, guided imagery, and other practices, you are systematically guided on a meditation journey through each level of your whole being called the koshas.” – from Jennifer Reis website
Once you have explored this practice, you will learn to never underestimate the opportunity of taking a deep sleep.
Yoga Nidra Resources
Why it Matters
These practices will help you to be a stronger person with more energy. Taking better care of yourself can allow you to give your loved one the best care you know they deserve. These options will assist you in regaining who you were before you became a caregiver (or better) after the one you care for gets better or passes on.
As a caregiver, so much of yourself gets put into various aspects of the type of care you give. Some people realize it, and some do not until after. Either way, there are no instruction manuals. No one tells you it is as challenging as it is. No one tells you how much of yourself and your needs just fades away.
I know for my sister and me, it has been a mess to get the information that we need. Or, realizing that the person who birthed us and raised us is not that person anymore. We are constantly needing to remind ourselves that being a caregiver is now our reality. Our love for her is so strong, that we are doing whatever it takes.
However, as a therapist (myself), I realize the importance of the resources I talked about in this article. If we don’t take care of ourselves, then we are not able to care for our loved one the way that she deserves.